In the varied presentations of divine grace and human experience which are set forth in the Book of Psalms, two aspects embrace all others. The first is the Messianic, where the psalmist, frequently in his own person, reveals the sufferings and the glory of the incarnate Son of God, whom he recognizes, however, only as the coming King of Israel. The second is the individual aspect, in which the relationship of the believing soul to God is portrayed in numerous phases. So fully is the human heart unveiled that David, to whom most of the psalms have been ascribed, has been spoken of by one writer as “not one man, but all mankind’s epitome.”
The inspiration of the Spirit of God was richly upon all the authors of the psalms. Each of them knew God, and loved Him with a passion that was, perhaps, not exceeded by any of the saints of this later dispensation. Out of their own knowledge of the inner life they wrote often more wisely than they realized. Without any straining of their words it is possible to find foreshadowings of deep spiritual truths, which in their full development could not be understood till Calvary had come and gone. Comprehension of the mysteries of the heavenly calling comes to men only as they are able to receive them. And, until the work of the Cross was complete, and the Holy Spirit was out poured, even the most devout of God’s true children were not ready for all that has since been revealed to the spiritual minds of the present age.
The Hunger of the Soul
In Psalms 42 and 43 is finely illustrated the thought which has just been stated. There is shown to us the awakening vision of a man whose heart was crying out for knowledge of and fellowship with God. Desire was intensified by the fact that he was in exile. Who he was we may surmise, but his identity matters little. From the “land of Jordan,” where the head waters of that turbulent stream find their sources in the springs of the Hermons, he gazed with inward yearning towards the distant temple. At a former time it had been his privilege to join with the glad throngs of worshipers as they ascended the holy hill of Zion with songs of rejoicing and praise. Now, isolated amid the solitude of mountain fastnesses and cataracts, he listened with awe to one voice of nature calling unto another of the majesty of the Creator of all, while he himself seemed to be cut off from God and overwhelmed by the waves and billows of the never resting sea of life.
It is sweet to note that, in his remembrance of Jerusalem, he was craving not so much for the ordinances of the sanctuary as for God Himself. It is a precious proof of the reality and the depth of his love that every opposing circumstance but increased his desire for the divine fellowship which he had once enjoyed, which to the pious Israelite found its center of manifestation in the pace where God had chosen to reveal Himself. Though the sense of desolation was so great that it seemed to bear him down “as with a sword (a killing or crushing) in his bones,” he still believed that the lovingkindness of the Lord was about Him “in the daytime” to preserve him from the pursuit of his deadly foes. And then, when the shadows of night fell, and the tabernacle of darkness enfolded him about, there stole into his heart the sweet strains of the songs of Zion mingled with his prayers to the. God of his life, and he was soothed and comforted.
The Oppression of the Enemy
His complaint to God concerns spiritual rather than material foes. “Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy,” he cries to the most High, whom he accuses in his depression of having cast him off. The daily reproach of his opponents, “Where is thy God?” is an inward rather than an outward voice, for he was far separated from those who would do harm to him. We are sometimes prone to think that the saints of Old Testament times possessed little clear conception of the powers of the unseen world. But this is a misapprehension on our part. It is true that in the Book of Psalms the emphasis at first appears to be laid upon visible and physical foes. These the writer hated “with perfect hatred” (Psa. 139: 22), because they were also the enemies of God. But we would be wrong in limiting the thought of the psalmist to what alone could be seen. It will be remembered that Satan is introduced in the very beginning of the Old Testament, and that he appears as the constant adversary of the people of the Lord. The facts also of possession by demons and contact with familiar spirits were well known and often referred to with reprobation by the prophets and in the Law.
Furthermore, the Book of job was written long before the time of David, and was unquestionably in his hands and those of the spiritual leaders of Israel. It was doubtless included among the Scriptures in which he meditated with great delight. In this remarkable narrative the veil of the invisible world has been drawn partly aside, and there is given a very startling view of the secret working of the great adversary who had been permitted to bring trouble upon God’s champion. We see Satan so concealing his own working that the pious patriarch was actually deceived into believing that he had been set up as a mark for “the arrows of the Almighty.” Knowing these facts as they did, it is not too much to claim that David and his fellow saints realized that many at least of the bitter persecutions which they suffered originated from the same dread source that were responsible for the afflictions of job.
It is a common tendency in the present day to speak of every national calamity as “an act of God,” when such should be laid, as surely as in the experience of the patriarch of Uz, at the door of the restless and malignant enemy of mankind. The permission of the Most High has been given, it is true, where such affect the Lord’s people, and for this reason the writers of the Old Testament have a tendency to ascribe all things to the direct working of the divine hand. But there is, alas, among the majority of the people of God, an inability to discern in their own sufferings what is the chastening of the Lord, and what is due, in the words of the psalmist, to “the oppression of the enemy.”
As a consequence, it is sad to see the numbers of earnest Christians, people like the psalmist with a heart for God, who are being beaten down to the ground, and are unable to rise again. The roll of such is increasing, and it is incumbent on pastors and Christian teachers and workers to appreciate the reality of the danger, and to meet the situation with a keen discernment of its source and a determined will for victory. Unseen wolves are entering, “not sparing the flock,” and trained and fearless shepherds are needed, who can not only face the enemy with understanding and confidence, and can deliver the prey out of his mouth, but who can also repair breaches in the wall of-the folds.
The Victory of the Believer’s Countenance
Three times in the two psalms before us, there occurs a refrain in identical language. It varies somewhat in the Authorized Version, where the translators have employed different words. In the first instance of its use (42: 5), the last three words have been attached to the following verse, having probably been so arranged in some manuscript in order to remove what to some scribe seemed an abrupt transition of thought.
The following rendition applies in all three instances (42: 5, 11; 43: 5). It is quite literal:
“Why art thou cast down, 0 my soul,
And why art thou disquieted in me?
Await God, for I shall yet praise him –
The victory of my countenance – and my God.”
God is here revealed not merely as the Deliverer of the soul of the psalmist. In the existing circumstances of spiritual oppression and physical depression that would have itself been a splendid achievement of faith. Jehovah is represented in a larger way, as the Giver of victory to the countenance of the psalmist, so that his enemies fled before his face. The Lord had endued His servant with His own authority from on high, so that, as he went forward in the name of God, opposing circumstances should give way and spiritual enemies would flee apace.
This is a New Testament truth in an Old Testament setting. It is one with which every saved and sanctified believer should be familiar. The purpose of the Father provides that each child of His may be a sharer of the throne and the authority of His risen and exalted Son. Over all the power of the enemy this authority extends. It is the believer’s right to bind and loose in the name of Him who has appointed him. As the psalm states it, God is Himself the Victory of the believer’s countenance, so that he fears neither man, nor spirit, nor opposing circumstance.
The Way of the Cross
It is the duty and privilege of every Christian to understand and enter into the divine desire for our perfecting, and to claim the place with Christ, both in His cross and resurrection and ascension, that the Father has appointed. God has reckoned each believer in His Son to have died with Him at Calvary. “Know ye not,” demands Paul (Rom. 6: 3ff.), “that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” Alas, it is a truth of which very few who claim the saving grace of our Lord have any practical knowledge, but it is of vital importance. All of our growth into the stature of the risen Son of man depends upon our identification with Him. “Our old man,” the apostle goes on to say (v. 6), “was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be annulled” (its power over us destroyed completely and for ever). We enter into the experience of this through faith: “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 11). Then, as we positively present ourselves unto God as alive from the dead, and withdraw our members from the demands of sin, we shall find ourselves through the action of the Holy Spirit, who carries out within us the action of faith, realizing the truth of the promise (v. 14), “Sin shall not have dominion over you.”
The way of the cross is the appointed path to the realization of that experimental sitting with Christ, which the Father has ordained for the believer. Our blessed Lord died at Calvary, and the bands of death being broken, He has been exalted to the right hand of the throne. There is no other way for the disciple than to be as his Lord. It is not a method of fleshly works of self-denial, but the firm belief that God does as He says, as we walk in the light of His truth. Our part is the simple entering by faith into that which has already happened at the cross, the tomb and the resurrection. We yield ourselves unto God that the Spirit may work in us that which He has revealed in His Word as His vine purpose, a purpose which He can only fulfil as we abide in the faith that He is working in us to will and do of His good pleasure. We have died with Christ.; we were buried with Him (not in the mere symbolism of water baptism, but in the apprehension of that work of the Spirit which baptism symbolizes) ; we were raised with Him in His resurrection out of that tomb in which all our sins, and the old man the root of all, were buried ; and we have been made to sit with Him in the heavenlies, at the right hand of the Father. It is in the realization which this faith brings that we come to know that the Lord has Himself become the strength of our countenance, as we see a new power working in us and through us in our ministry.
The saint who has learned that the Lord Himself is the victory of his countenance confronts calmly and fearlessly whatever situation may arise, knowing that naught can prevail against the will that is linked with God. A firm and positive refusal that the enemy shall have any right to work in the life, or the body, or the circumstances, will bring the foe to a standstill. And, as this attitude is maintained in quiet faith, a change will come, and the attacks will lose their force. However distressing the assaults, it is possible for faith to ask of the inner life, “Why art thou cast down, 0 my soul, and why art thou disquieted in me?” and to calm itself with the certain assurance, “Await God, for I shall yet praise him-the victory of my countenance -and my God.
The conflicts in our churches, in which neither party will give way, and which lower the spiritual power of the assembly, may be controlled by prayer and authority directed against those evil principalities and powers, whose working foments and continues the trouble. Individual lives, taken in the snare of the devil, depressed and hopeless, may be restored to their place of assurance, and peace, and joy in God. Attacks on physical health, and on social relationships, and on financial matters, may often be traced to unseen workings, and thus overcome in the name of the Lord.
In a wider outlook, the international tumults which threaten the ministry of the Gospel through blocking access to needy fields and tying up the sources of financial support, must also yield to the faith that directs the weapons of God against the Satanic barriers. The countenance of Joshua was given such victory by the God of Israel that no man was able to stand before his face all the days of his life. Our wrestling, unlike that of Joshua, is not with the seven nations of Canaan, but with their spiritual counterparts. These are the forces that are responsible for every opposing world issue. They, too, shall fall before the Church of Christ, when her people, inspired and energized with a new vision of Calvary, shall rise in the name and authority of the Lord to refuse all interference with her world mission.
Princes with God
It was said of George Muller of Bristol, in his later years, that he bore himself like a prince of God. So confident had his faith become through years of asking and receiving, so intimate was his communion with God from uncounted hours spent in audience with Him, that his countenance and his whole bearing manifested the dignity of a member of the royal household of heaven. The society in which we move inevitably leaves its impress upon us. This is the more true when it demands the putting forth of our highest powers to walk worthily among its members, and when we further realize that it expects us in every situation to be an honor to it. We have been made through the ministry of our gracious Lord, “Kings and priests unto his God and Father.” If we believe this, and walk in the conscious light of the Lord, there cannot fail in time to be seen in us what was said of the brethren of Gideon: “Each one resembled the children of a king” (Judges 8: 18).