The Suffering People Of God (Psalms 3, 4, and 5)

The first eight psalms constitute an octave in which all are intimately connected. We have already looked at Psalms 1 and 2, but now we want to link them with the six that follow. In this octave we have our Lord Jesus Christ presented to us as the Second Man, the only perfect Man who ever trod this earth. He, as we have already seen, is the blessed Man of Psalm 1, and He stands out in vivid contrast to the first man, to all who are linked with the first man, Adam, by natural birth, to the ungodly. Then in Psalm 2 we have seen this Second Man presented by God as King to reign in Zion, and one might have thought, knowing how terribly distraught men were because of the crimes and wickedness and difficulty they had to face in all the nations, that they would gladly have opened their hearts to the true King when He came. But instead of that we find them saying, “We will not have this Man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14), and so the King was rejected, and with the rejection of the King we have the setting to one side of the kingdom. Some people imagine that the kingdom of God is now in force in this world, and we hear a great deal in many quarters about “building the kingdom,” and our responsibility to build the kingdom; but the fact of the matter is that the kingdom as set forth in Scripture has never yet been set up in this world. It was presented to men when the Lord Jesus Christ was here, when He said, “The kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21), not exactly, perhaps, as translated in our version, “The kingdom of God is within you.” He was really saying to the people who were looking for the coming of the kingdom, “It is already among you”; that is, the King is here. There were His disciples gathered about Him, and they constituted His cabinet. He tells them that because they followed Him, in the regeneration, that is, in the making of all things new, they shall sit upon thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. They were the executors of His kingdom. As He stood with this group of apostles He could say, “You are looking for the kingdom? You are thinking of it as something yet to come? It is here because the King is here, and here are His loyal subjects.” But in Pilate’s judgment hall they cried, “We have no king but Caesar,” and so refused and rejected God’s anointed King. What has happened? He went to the Cross, settled the sin question, and now is like the nobleman pictured in Luke 19 who went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return, and in His absence we are not building the kingdom, but the Spirit of God is using those who love the Lord Jesus, those who seek to serve Him to call out from among the Gentiles and from Israel a people for His name. These people, when they are saved, when they trust the Lord Jesus, are constituted by the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the Church, the body of Christ; and when Christ returns to reign, His people will reign with Him. In the meantime His kingdom is set up in our hearts. That is, we who trust Him, we who love Him, recognize Him as the only rightful King though rejected by the world; and so in that sense we speak of the kingdom in its mystery form, hidden in the hearts of those who love Him. During all this present waiting time, ere the King comes back and takes possession of the entire universe so that the kingdoms of the world shall actually become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, His people have to suffer, have to know what it is to be misunderstood by the world, to endure persecution and trial and difficulty. Their Head is rejected, the true King is rejected, and so His saints are rejected with Him. We sing sometimes:

      “Our Lord is now rejected and by the world disowned,

      By the many still neglected and by the few enthroned,

      But soon He’ll come in glory, the hour is drawing nigh,

      For the crowning day is coming by and by.”

Until that day we cannot expect to be recognized by the world that cast out our Saviour; we cannot expect to feel at home in this scene where He had no home. But when He comes back, He will purge the world with righteous judgment, and then we shall reign with Him.

Those of us who are acquainted with New Testament truth know that when He comes, the first thing He will do will be to call His own redeemed people out of this scene to meet Him in the air. And then what? Will that be the end of His dealings with men down here? No; God never leaves Himself without witnesses; though there will come a moment when there will not be a Christian left in the world. The solemn thing is that it might take place tonight. This should not trouble us. It ought not to alarm the bride to know that the bridegroom may come for her at any time, if she is really in love with him. Our blessed Bridegroom whom we love may come at any moment, and there will not be one Christian left in the world. But will that be an end to God’s mercy to mankind? No; because we learn from Scripture that “blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in” (Rom. 11:25). Then God will turn again to the people of Israel and will draw the hearts of honest Israelites to search their own Scriptures; and as a result, light will break upon their souls, and so there will soon be found in this world a remnant people out of Israel who will be waiting, not for the Saviour to come in the air, for that will have already come to pass, but for the King to come to the earth with all His heavenly saints who have been caught up to meet Him, to establish His kingdom and reign in Mount Zion, as indicated in that second Psalm. And when He reigns He will reign not only over the nation of Israel but also over all the earth; and in view of that He takes a much wider title than “King in Zion.” He calls Himself the “Son of Man.” We read, “When the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him,” etc. (Matt. 25:31). He will take possession of the world, and at His revelation many will recognize Him as the true Saviour and King and will bow in obedience to Him. Those who refuse allegiance will be cut off in judgment. Those who bow at His feet will enter, not into heaven, but into the kingdom that is going to be set up here on earth.

During the interval between the taking of the saints to heaven and the coming back with the Lord when He returns to reign, the people of Israel who have turned to Him will have to suffer almost incredulous persecution. It will be the time of Jacob’s trouble or, as the Lord Jesus calls it, the great tribulation, the time of distress “such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” In fact He says, “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved.” But then we read, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days…they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24: 21, 22, 29, 30).

In Psalm 1 you have the Second Man; in Psalm 2, the rejected King; and then in Psalms 3 to 7 you have the suffering and yet the confidence of the people of God in the interval until the Saviour returns again. When you come to Psalm 8 you have the glory of the Son of Man taking possession of the kingdom and ruling over the entire universe in righteousness: King in Psalm 2, Son of Man in Psalm 8, and so you can see how this is a connected series with everything in perfect order.

Let us look now at the third Psalm. It is interesting to notice the heading, “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.” David, the true king, was rejected and Absalom, the usurper, was reigning; and that is the condition of things now. Our Lord Jesus, the true King, is rejected and an usurper is on the throne; so we can expect suffering and sorrow. David’s experience pictures in a very wonderful way what the people of God will go through during the day of the Lord’s rejection. And may I say that in all these Psalms, 3 to 7, we have set forth in a peculiar way the sufferings that the remnant of Israel will endure in the days of the great tribulation. But they also apply to God’s people at any time while waiting for the coming again of the rejected King.

Let us read a part of Psalm 3, “Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me. Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God.” We might entitle this Psalm, “God the All-sufficient One.” Here is the child of God in real distress because all around are enemies who are taunting him and threatening him and saying to him, “There is no help for you; you trust in a God your eyes have never seen; He cannot do anything for you; there is no help for you in God.” The world says that now, but the people of God can look up and say, “But Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.” No matter how dark the days, no matter how foes may rage around, no matter how dreadful Satan’s malignancy may be, God Himself is our shield, and He is the One who lifts up our heads. So a saint of God can say, “I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and He heard me out of His holy hill.” And yet that does not mean that he is delivered from trouble. David was fleeing from Absalom, and he was a wanderer in the wilderness while his foes were seeking him; yet he tells us in this Psalm how he was able to hand his case over to God. It is a great thing to be able to do that, to say, it is not a question now of my ability to stand against the foe; it is not a question of my ability to weather this trouble, my ability to overcome my enemies; but I am putting the whole thing into the hands of God and He stands between \me and the foe.

Notice the perfect confidence expressed in the verses that follow, “I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.” Do you think you could have done that? Here is David fleeing from Absalom, not knowing what moment the army will be coming over the hill; but night has fallen, and he has committed himself to God, and so he wraps his robe around him and lies down and goes to sleep! He is safe, for he has handed everything over to God. “I laid me down and slept,” and when morning comes, he says, “I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.” In other words, I just had a real good sleep with all the foes seeking my destruction. It is only when you hand everything over to God that that can be possible. David says, “Lord, You know all about Absalom; You know all about my foes. They are determined to destroy me. You know how ungrateful my son Absalom is. Lord, You look after me.” And in the morning if one had asked, “How did you sleep?” he could have said, “I had a fine sleep and I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.” And so, strong in faith he says, “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.” Why? Because, after all, the battle is not his; it is God’s. So he turns to the Lord and says, “Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God”; and then in faith cries, though his eyes have not yet seen it, “for Thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; Thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly.” You cannot do much biting if your teeth are broken. They were just like a lot of yelping hounds after David, but he sees them with broken teeth and, this, long before the battle was fought. When eventually the army of Absalom came against Joab and the army of David, and they were defeated, it was no more real to David than when he handed it over to God in the wilderness. What a wonderful thing to be able to rest in God like that and count on His infinite love and power. “Salvation belongeth unto the Lord: Thy blessing is upon Thy people.”

In the next Psalm you have a continuation of the same spirit of trust and confidence. You might call Psalm 4, “Confidence in God.” David turns to God as the God of righteousness, and knows he can depend upon him. “Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness.” Whatever righteousness I have I get from God. I have none of my own. “Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.” And then he turns to the enemies around about, like the remnant of Israel as they see the power of antichrist and the beast seeking to destroy them. “O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn My glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? But know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for Himself.” Who is the godly man? The man that gives God the right place in his heart, and the Lord says, I have set that man apart for Myself. “The Lord will hear when I call unto Him.”

Then follows the soul at rest, and David is just communing, as it were, with his own soul. He says, “Stand in awe, and sin not.” Just wait quietly for God to act. “Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the Lord.” Notice the two things that are mentioned here, see that there is nothing wrong in your own life, and then you can put your trust in Him. If you are offering the sacrifices of unrighteousness, if there is wickedness and crookedness and unholiness in your life, it is no use talking about trusting God. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psa. 66:18). But if I have judged everything that the Spirit of God has shown me to be wrong, I can offer the sacrifice of praise without a condemning conscience and can trust and not be afraid.

“There be many that say, Who will shew us any good)” David, you say the Lord is going to undertake? Let us see it. He says, Lord, You answer—“Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.” Men of this world are happy when things go well with them outwardly. We have often pointed out that there is a great difference between peace and happiness. Happiness depends upon the “haps.” The old English word “hap” means a chance, and with the world if the “haps” are agreeable, if the chance events of life are satisfactory, then the worldling is happy, and if the “haps” are not satisfactory, he is un-hap-py. But with the Christian, whatever the “haps” are, if everything he has counted on goes to pieces, it does not make any difference. God is not going to pieces. God is there just the same, and so the soul can rest in Him, Therefore, even though a fugitive as David was, or a sufferer under the hand of antichrist as the remnant of Israel will be, the believer can say, “Thou hast put gladness in my heart.” There is a settled peace there, “More than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.” And so again the Psalmist says, “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep.” I will just leave it all with God and go to sleep. That is faith. “For Thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety.” I can just trust Thee, I can leave it all with Thee. One has to learn to hand everything over to God, for we cannot undertake for ourselves or for our own in any power we possess. God alone can undertake for me.

In the fifth Psalm it is the holiness of God that is celebrated. And again we hear David lifting his voice in prayer, “Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my meditation. Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray. My voice shalt Thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee, and will look up/’ He was going to start the day aright. It is a great thing to do that. Did He hear your voice this morning? Did you start the day without any word with Him, and have you wondered why things went wrong today? They always will if you launch out on the work of the day without speaking to Him first. In the Song of Solomon the bridegroom says, “Let me hear thy voice, let me see thy countenance.” And that is what our blessed Lord is saying to us—“I want you to take time to talk with Me, to read My Word and let Me speak to you through it I want you to pour out your heart in prayer. I want to see your face and hear your voice.” If you want to be a strong overcoming believer in a day of difficulty, be sure to start the day with God.

For Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with Thee. The foolish shall not stand in Thy sight: Thou hatest all workers of iniquity.” What is it to stand in the sight of God? It is to be accepted of Him. We read in the first Psalm, “The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,” But will the ungodly not stand in the judgment; are not they the people that will have to stand before the great white throne? Yes; but they will have no standing there, because when He speaks of standing in the judgment, He means being acquitted, being accepted of God in that day. “The ungodly will not be acquitted in the judgment,” and so here, “The foolish shall not be acquitted in Thy sight.” In Revelation when the awful judgment of the last days will break over the world the cry goes forth, “The great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?” (6:17). You see, your standing is to be accepted of God in that day.

Well, who will be able to stand? In the fifth chapter of Romans, verses 1 and 2, we read, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand.” Every believer has a standing before God of which the worldling knows nothing. The unsaved man has no standing, but every child of God stands complete in the risen Christ in all the infinite value of the precious atoning blood of Jesus.

Notice the second part of this verse, “Thou hatest all workers of iniquity.” What does that mean? Are we wrong in telling men that no matter how sinful they are God loves them? We cannot be wrong for the Word itself says, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16), and that world is made up of sinners. What does, “Thou hatest all workers of iniquity” mean? God abhors the work of ungodly men. No matter how true it is that He loves the sinner, He hates his sin and longs to see the sinner separated from his sin. If men persist in continuing in their sin there can be nothing but banishment from God for eternity, and so destruc- tion comes to the workers of iniquity. “Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the Lord will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.” And from this point on there seems to loom before the souls of the writers of these beautiful Old Testament hymns a strong and dreadful character who is the enemy of the people of God and the enemy of everything holy. In other words as you read, it seems that you can see the foreshadowing, all the way through, of the last great enemy of God’s people, who is going to rise up just before the end, the antichrist, and he, I believe, is really “the bloody and deceitful man” that is in view here. We shall see other terms used of him as we go along.

In spite of all this the child of God can say today as the remnant of Israel will be able to say, “As for me, I will come into Thy house in the multitude of Thy mercy: and in Thy fear will I worship toward Thy holy temple. Lead me, O Lord, in Thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make Thy way straight before my face.” In other words, all I want to know, Lord, is what Thy path is, and then I would have grace to walk in it. “There is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulchre.” This passage is quoted in the third chapter of the Epistle to the Romans in describing the corruption of men out of Christ.

“They flatter with their tongue. Destroy Thou them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions; for they have rebelled against Thee.” You say, Well that does not seem to be a very gracious kind of prayer. Why does David not rather pray that God will break them down and bring them to repentance and save their souls? You see, the Psalmist carries us on to a time of crisis when the enemies of God and the people of God on the other hand are engaged in the last great conflict, and the only way that righteousness can triumph in that time will be by the destruction of all the enemies of the Lord. People have often said that some of these Psalms, with their imprecations, seem so contrary to the spirit of Christ. Of course they have to do largely with law, and in the coming day of tribulation it will be law rather than grace that rules, but after all, do we not even now enter in measure to the same spirit?

About the close of the Civil War two gentlemen happened to meet in a railway train. One of them was sitting there reading his Bible when the other sat down by him and said, “My friend, I am rather surprised to see the Book you are reading; it is a Bible, is it not?”

“Yes,” said the other, “it is.”

“You look like an intelligent person; you don’t mean to tell me you believe in the Bible?”

“Yes, I do believe in it.”

“I didn’t know any intelligent persons believed it any more. When I was young, I used to think it was all right, but when I got older I threw it overboard.”

“What did you find in it so objectionable?”

“Well, take for instance those imprecatory Psalms. I cannot reconcile those with a loving God.”

The other was going to answer him when a newsboy came hurrying through the car calling, “Extra! Extra! Grant is marching on Richmond!” and everybody wanted a paper. This man said, “Good! I am glad that Grant is getting down to business at last. I hope he will wipe Richmond off the face of the earth.”

“My friend,” said the other, “that is an imprecatory Psalm!”

What did that man mean? He did not really have any hatred in his heart toward the people of the south, but as he thought of the four long years of war he felt that the quickest way to end it all would be by the downfall of Richmond. And so, after all the long, long struggle between good and evil, when at last the end is just about reached and the army of Satan, marching under the antichrist, is defying God, the heart cries out to God to destroy these enemies and to let righteousness prevail. It does not imply hatred but an earnest desire that the long, long reign of wickedness should come to an end and the reign of righteousness begin.

On the other hand, “Let all those that put their trust in Thee rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because Thou defendest them: let them also that love Thy name be joyful in Thee. For Thou, Lord, wilt bless the righteous; with favour wilt Thou compass him as with a shield.” And so we think of the tried people of God today entering into these Psalms and finding in them suited vehicles for expression of the earnest desires of their hearts. But how much more will they have their application in that coming day when the remnant of Israel will be suffering so terribly under the hand of the beast and the antichrist. Wherever there is a measure of divine illumination the heart will be lifted above the trial and will be able to look up to God and count on Him while waiting for the hour when the King shall return to bring in the reign of righteousness.