Thus far in our attempt to expound this portion of the Word of God I have not called attention to the beauties of some of these headings. For instance, Psalms 19, 20, and 21 are all headed alike, “To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.” Psalm 22 is also dedicated “To the chief Musician.” But then you have a Hebrew term following that which is said to mean, “hind of the morning,” referring to the antlers on the head of a deer as picturing the rays of the rising sun.
This expression, “The chief Musician,” surely ought to come home to our hearts. Who is the chief Musician? We read, “In the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee” (Psa. 22:22), and the speaker is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. It ought to give character to our songs of praise to realize that it is He who leads the praises of His people, and surely our songs of praise then should be, in some measure at least, worthy of Him. I am afraid sometimes we sing what we call gospel songs that He would never lead. But when we approach Him with reverence and in gratitude the Lord Jesus delights to lead out our praises. So when we see these Psalms dedicated “To the chief Musician” let us always think of Christ and say, “Here is something that the Spirit of God inspired David to write, and he dedicated it to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.”
It is an interesting fact that very frequently in the book of Psalms the last verse of one Psalm is a key to the next one. We see that right here. The last verse of Psalm 19 ends up with the words, “O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer,” and the 20th Psalm celebrates the strength and the redemption of our God. Then in the same way the last verse of the 20th Psalm says, “Save, Lord: let the King hear us when we call.” And the 21st Psalm is the Psalm of the King in His glory. It begins, “The king shall joy in Thy strength, O Lord.” When reading in the Psalms watch for those intimate connections. Sometimes you will get a series of five, six, seven, or nine Psalms all linked like that, the last verse of one introducing the first of the next with certain words, certain expressions common to each and seemingly binding these Psalms together like a golden chain. In Psalm 19 we have had the testimony of creation and the testimony of the Word of God, all telling of a Redeemer that God has provided. Then in Psalm 20 we have the redemption, the salvation which that Redeemer has obtained for us.
Look at the first three verses of Psalm 20. The soul is resting, as it were, upon the work that the Lord Jesus Christ has accomplished. “The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee; Send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion; Remember all thy offerings, and accept thy burnt sacrifice.” Of course all the offerings and all the burnt sacrifices speak of Christ so everything here is based upon sacrifice. All future blessing for Israel and for the nations as well as for the individual soul rests upon the one offering of the Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary. All these sacrifices that were offered in the past dispensations were just so many pictures of the work that He accomplished there and it is on the basis of this that all blessing comes to us. It is because of His offering that God hears those who call. The God of Jacob will undertake for us.
I do love that term, “The God of Jacob.” Do you know that only once in the Bible we read of “The God of Isaac” and only twice of “The God of Abraham”? Once we read of “The Lord God of Elijah” but about twenty-two times in the book of the Psalms we read of “The God of Jacob.” Why does He call himself “The God of Jacob”? I think there are a number of suggestive thoughts. Perhaps the first is that He is the God that the poor sinner needs, for Jacob was a poor crooked stick from the time he first came into this world right on through the years. The name means “the grafter” or “the cheat” literally, “the heel catcher.” A man who would trip another by catching his heel. It is like the flesh in every one of us; what heel catchers we are! But God is “The God of Jacob.” Isaac was a nice, colorless sort of man. He never did anything exciting. He was never excitingly good, never excitingly bad. You might have thought that God would far rather have delighted to call Himself, “The God of Isaac,” but only once in the Word is He so called. It is “The God of Jacob” because He wants you and me to know that He is the God who is interested in poor sinners. And then again I think the thought of “The God of Jacob” suggests the God of the individual. God singles people out. “I am that man’s God,” and He singled you and me out, and we can look up into His face and say, “Thou art my God.” And then there is this thought, He is the God of patience, and what patience He had with Jacob! He dealt with him; He disci- plined him; He took that crooked man and chastened, educated him, and taught him by discipline until at last when an old man he became a quiet, patient, godly worshiper. We read that Jacob, when he was dying, “worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff” (Heb. 11:21). It took him a long time to reach that place but he attained it at last. What patience God has had with some of us!
The last section includes verses 4 to 6 where we have the blessing that comes to the people of God in answer to prayer. Verses 1, 2, and 3 are in the nature of a prayer, and you notice they conclude with the word, “Selah.” In our version the sentence is not completed but actually you should have a period there, for the word “Selah” itself would indicate that. This word “Selah” literally means “to lift up.” Just as, for instance, in playing the piano the pianist comes to a rest and just lifts her hands for a moment. When the music was played the musician would just lift his hand and indicate that there was a rest in the music. When I was a boy, a dear old saint said, “Whenever I see that word ‘Selah’ I always read it as, ‘Stop and consider!’” It is the Lord saying, “I have been telling you something of importance; you just stop now and think it over.” It is divine punctuation. Stop and think this over before you go on with the next strain.
The fourth verse, instead of being a part of the petition, should be a declarative sentence. A better translation is this, “He will grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfil all thy counsel.” The prayer was in the other three verses, “May the Lord do thus and so for you,” and now the answer comes, “He will grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfil all thy counsel.” Some one says, “Doesn’t God always do that? does He not grant everybody according to his heart and fulfil all their counsels?” He has never promised to do that in an indiscriminate kind of way. But He does say, “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (Psa. 37:4). And again, “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15:7). Here, you see, you have the soul occupied with Christ, occupied with His work, and now the cry goes out to God on the cloud of the burnt sacrifices and the answer comes, “He will grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfil all thy counsel.” When you and I are really taken up with Him, when His will is our will, when we are delighting ourselves in Him, when His Word abides in us and we are consciously in communion with Him, we may ask what we will and it will be done. “Well,” somebody said to me one time, “if that is true, why don’t you ask the Lord for a million dollars and pay up everything and not have to take up any more collections?” I could not do that if I am delighting myself in Him. He does not tell me to ask for a million dollars. If He did, I would do it. When George Mueller delighted himself in Him and he asked for a million pounds, God gave it to him during a lifetime of fifty years, when running that orphanage. If I had a responsibility like that I could go to the Lord about it too. If you and I are really living in communion with Him the Holy Spirit dwelling within us will move our hearts and show us that for which we should ask, and as we pray in the Holy Spirit we can be assured of an answer.
Now then faith speaks in verses 5 and 6, “We will re- joice in Thy salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners: the Lord fulfil all thy petitions.” In verse 6 you have a term used that refers throughout all the prophetic Scripture to our Lord Jesus Himself, that which the Jews used for the coming Saviour, “Now know I that the Lord saveth His anointed.” “Anointed” is the same as “Messiah.” The Messiah was the One for whom the Jews were waiting all down through the centuries. But it was predicted that God’s Anointed was to suffer, to be rejected, to die, and then was to come forth from the grave in triumph. And so the Psalmist looks on to the day of victory and says, “Now know I that the Lord saveth His anointed; He will hear him from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand.” And the same power that raised Messiah from the dead is the power that undertakes for us. So we can say, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.” We are trusting in God alone. How apt we are in the hour of stress and trial to turn for help to that which is merely earthly or human and so often fails us. If you once know the blessedness of depending on God, you will find it is a luxury to trust in Him. Your confidence will not be in the natural but in the spiritual.
“They are brought down”—those who trust only in temporal things—“and fallen: but we”—we who trust in God— “are risen, and stand upright.” The Psalm closes with Christ in view. “Save, Lord: let the King hear us when we call.” And of course the King is none other than our blessed Lord Jesus. And that introduces us direcdy to Psalm 21, for the very first verse, as we have seen, celebrates the glory of the King.
“The king shall joy in Thy strength, O Lord; and in Thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice.” In other Psalms we have seen the blessed Lord walking through this earth in lowly subjection to the Father. Now we see Him, the risen One, ready to take His great power and reign as He will in God’s appointed time, rejoicing in the deliverance that came when God raised Him up from the dead. And the Psalmist says, “Thou hast given Him His heart’s desire, and hast not withholden the request of His lips.” What was the heart’s desire of the Lord Jesus? What was it that took Him to that cross, that took Him through Gethsemane, that sustained Him in those hours of darkness? The Apostle Paul tells us. He says, “Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). What was that joy? It was the joy of having you and me together with Him in the glory. What an amazing thing—His heart’s desire was to have us with Him in heaven! That is what Isaiah means when he pictures the awful agony of the Cross and then says, “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied” (Isa. 53:11). The word “travail” refers only to one kind of suffering, and that is to the pangs of birth. And so Isaiah says, His awful agony on the Cross was the means of giving us life, of bringing salvation to us. “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied.” “Thou hast given Him His heart’s desire.” He is now at God’s right hand in the glory, and there will be millions through eternity who will owe everything to His precious blood. That will be the fulfillment of His heart’s desire. The Psalmist has rather in view the kingdom on earth, but we may think of both.
“Thou preventest Him with the blessings of goodness: Thou settest a crown of pure gold on His head.” We sing, “Crown Him,” but the fact of the matter is, we are not going to crown Him. Of course what is meant is that we will participate in His coronation, but it is God the Father who crowns Him. Men crowned Him once. They put upon Him the fruit of the earth that was cursed. God said to the earth, when Adam had sinned, “Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth” (Gen. 3:18), and they put a crown of thorns on the head of my Saviour. But God has torn away the crown of thorns, and we read, “Thou settest a crown of pure gold on His head. He asked life of Thee, and Thou gavest it Him, even length of days for ever and ever.” He was going to death but counted on God the Father to raise Him and to give Him “length of days for ever and ever,” and so we have resurrection blessing for all who trust Him.
“His glory is great in Thy salvation: honour and majesty hast Thou laid upon Him. For Thou hast made Him most blessed for ever: Thou hast made Him exceeding glad with Thy countenance. For the king trusteth in the Lord, and through the mercy of the most High He shall not be moved.” See how the humanity of our Lord again shines forth. He came into this scene as Man; He went to the Cross as Man; as Man He committed His soul to the Father, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” (Luke 23:46); as man He went down into death, but now God the Father has raised Him from the dead, and He is come forth in resurrection glory in a life that can never again be destroyed, that can never come to an end, life for ever and ever. And now until that glad day when He yields up the kingdom to the Father He is still the subject One, He is still serving the Father as He is seeking to bring men to Himself and preparing the way for His coming glorious kingdom. When at last everything has been subdued to God He will deliver up the kingdom to the Father.
In verses 8 to the end of this Psalm we have Messiah reigning and the effect of that reign upon man here on earth. When He descends in power and glory to take the kingdom He is going to root out, we are told, all things that offend, and so we read, “Thine hand shall find out all Thine enemies: Thy right hand shall find out those that hate Thee.” What a sad thing to think that after all the infinite love and grace that God has shown to the world through the Lord Jesus Christ there are still myriads of men who hate Him, who have no desire to be reconciled to Him. And when He comes again in power and glory He is going to destroy the wicked out of the earth, that a kingdom of righteousness may be set up in this very scene. “Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of Thine anger: the Lord shall swallow them up in His wrath, and the fire shall devour them.” Now turn to a New Testament passage that touches on exactly this same thing. The Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, chapter 1, verses 6-10, “Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; And to you who are troubled rest.” When God recompenses tribulation to His enemies He will give rest to His own. “To you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power, When He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.” This is the day when the kingdom is to be introduced, and it begins with the Lord taking vengeance on His enemies.
In the third chapter of Malachi’s prophecy we read of a group in the last days to whom the things of God are precious; and when Israel will be going through the time of Jacob’s trouble this little group will come together to search His Word and to wait upon Him, and He says of them, in verse 17, “And they shall be Mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.” Spare them from what? from the judgment that is coming upon men. “Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not” (verse 18). Now in chapter 4 we read, “For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall bum them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” What a complete destruction of all the wicked in that day, the day of Jehovah’s power. But now see the blessings for the righteous. It is of people who will be living then on this earth that He speaks. “But unto you that fear My name [and He is speaking to men of Israeli shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts.” I have often had some of these materialists come to me and point to a scripture like this and say, “You tell us that the Bible teaches the eternal conscious punishment of those who reject the Lord Jesus Christ.”
And I say, “Yes, terrible as it is I find it in my Book, and I dare not teach men anything else.”
“But look,” they say, “in this passage it says that in the day of judgment the Lord is going to consume them root and branch and they will be ashes. Well, then, there won’t be anything left.”
But he is not speaking here of the final day of judgment, the great white throne; he is speaking of a judgment that is going to take place on this earth when King Messiah returns to reign, and the wicked on the earth shall be destroyed with the brightness of His presence, burning up root and branch, that is, father and son, and the righteous will be spared to enter into the millennial kingdom and all that will be left will be ashes. That has to do only with the body. You cannot burn a soul or a spirit to ashes. Suppose that you had been there the day after Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, when fire had come down and burned up those cities. Suppose Abraham had gone down there, he could have walked the streets of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the wicked, the bodies of the wicked, would have been ashes under his feet. This has nothing to do with their souls. It is a judgment here on this earth. Look at those people who died so long ago. Are they annihilated”? What does Jesus say? He says, speaking of the cities where most of His mighty works had been done, “I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.” “For if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matt. 11:22, 21). They were ashes under the feet of the righteous, but they are coming up in the day of judgment. Their spirits, their souls were not ashes and even their bodies are going to be raised from the dead, and they will stand in the day of judgment. And so this judgment is that which takes place on the earth when the Lord Jesus will be revealed “In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God.”
“Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of Thine anger: the Lord shall swallow them up in His wrath, and the fire shall devour them. Their fruit shalt Thou destroy from the earth, and their seed from among the children of men.” The generation of the wicked is blotted out in order that righteousness may reign for a thousand wonderful years. “For they intended evil against Thee: they imagined a mischievous device, which they are not able to perform. Therefore shalt Thou make them turn their back, when Thou shalt make ready Thine arrows upon Thy strings against the face of them.” The Lord is represented here as coming from heaven with a mighty army and like a bowman putting His arrow to the bow and His enemies fleeing before Him when He descends to deal with them in judgment.
The Psalm closes with an ascription of praise, “Be Thou exalted, Lord, in Thine own strength; so will we sing and praise Thy power.” Oh, what a day it will be when wickedness will no longer be permitted to have the ascendency.