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saints unto the beasts of the earth.' 3. Their blood have they shed like water round about Jerusalem: and there was none to bury them.'
That horrible carnage which attends the siege and capture of a city, is the fourth of those calamities bewailed in our Psalm. To behold, or even to imagine, heaps of slaughtered bodies lying unburied, and exposed to birds and beasts of prey, is inexpressibly shocking to humanity. But with what unconcern are we accustomed to view, on all sides of us, multitudes 'dead in trespasses and sins,' torn in pieces, and devoured by wild passions, filthy lusts, and infernal spirits, those dogs and vultures of the moral world! Yet to a discerning eye, and a thinking mind, the latter is by far the more melancholy sight of the two. 4. We are become a reproach to our neighbours: a scorn and derision to them that are round about us.'
A fifth calamity, incident to an afflicted church, is to become, like captive Israel, the scorn and derision' of infidels, who fail not, at such seasons, to reproach her, and blaspheme her God. We know how to answer those who reproach us with our sufferings, for so their predecessors reproached our Master; but what shall we say, if we have given the enemy occasion to reproach us with our sins? The only real disgrace of religion, is the wickedness of its professors!
5. How long, LORD? Wilt thou be angry for ever? shall thy jealousy burn like fire?'
Parched and exhausted, amidst the flames of persecution, we behold Sion panting for the comforts of redemption. The extent and continuance of her troubles, cause her to fear a total extermination; and by the questions here asked, she tacitly reminds God of his promises not to give her up, and destroy her 'for ever,' on account of Messias, whom she was in the fulness of time to bring forth.
6. Pour out thy wrath upon the heathen that have not known thee, and upon the kingdoms that have not called upon thy name.' 7. For they have devoured Jacob, and laid waste his dwelling-place.'
This, though uttered in the form of a wish, or prayer, is to be considered, like many other passages of the same
nature, as a prediction of what would afterwards come to pass. Pagan ambition and cruelty were often employed to chastise offending Israel; but were, themselves, notwithstanding, justly punished, in their turn, by other powers raised up for that end. That relation in which the church stands to God, causes him, on her repentance, to appear in her behalf, and to execute vengeance on her oppressors, who 'know him not, nor call upon his name.' 'We are thine,' saith Isaiah, 'thou never barest rule over them, they were not called by thy name:' xliii. 19. The church, for her sins, may deserve to suffer; but her enemies are not therefore without guilt, nor will they escape without punishment.
8. O remember not against us former iniquities: let thy tender mercies speedily prevent us; for we are brought very low.' 9. Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name's sake.'
Affliction hath then wrought its intended effect, when it hath convinced us of sin, and led us to repentance; when, brought back by it, like the returning prodigal, to the house and presence of our heavenly Father, we acknowlege our guilt as the cause of our misery, and entreat forgiveness of the one, in order to obtain a release from the other; not pleading our own merits, but the mercies of God our Saviour, and the glory of his name.
10. 'Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is their God? Let him be known among the heathen in our sight, by the revenging of the blood of thy servants which is shed; or Let the vengeance of thy servants' blood that is shed, be known among the heathen that is in our sight.
It is for the glory of God's name,' to deliver his church; because, while she is in trouble, that name is blasphemed by the enemy, as if he wanted either power, or will, to prevent or remove the calamities of his servants. Prayer is therefore here made by the faithful, that God, not to gratify any vindictive spirit of theirs, but to vindicate his own attributes, would break the teeth of the oppressor, and work a public and glorious salvation for his chosen ; at beholding which, the very adversaries themselves might possibly be converted.
11. Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee; according to the greatness of thy power preserve thou those that are appointed to die.'
Next to those who had been slain, the case of such as groaned in captivity, lying bound in chains and fetters, under sentence of death, to be inflicted at the will of their cruel and insulting conquerors, is recommended to God. The Christian, though he may at present be subject to none of these external calamities, forgets not that he is often persecuted, and led captive, by his own desires, and bound in the chains of his sins; that the world to him is a prison; that sentence of death is passed on him, and he knoweth not how soon that sentence may be executed. How properly therefore, and how fervently, may he, at all times, pray, 'O let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee; according to the greatness of thy power preserve thou those that are appointed to die.'
12. And render unto our neighbours sevenfold into their bosom their reproach, wherewith they have reproached thee, O LORD.'
That is, As they have reproached thee with weakness, so manifest to others their weakness, who are but sinful dust and ashes; as they have endeavoured to make thee contemptible, so let the world have just cause to despise them, who have thus presumptuously offended; according as it is written, Them that honor me I will honor, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed:' 1 Sam. ii. 30. And, however different the appearance of things may now be, this will certainly be found true, in every instance, at the last day.
13. So we thy people, and sheep of thy pasture, will give thee thanks for ever: we will show forth thy praise to all generations.'
Such is the resolution of a church under persecution; and such ought to be the practice of every church, when delivered out of it, and restored to the favor and protection of her God. The same is the duty of every soul, with regard to afflictions and mercies of a private kind. But how glorious will be the day, when triumphant over sin and sorrow, over every thing that exalteth and opposeth itself, the church universal shall behold the adversary disarmed for ever; while she herself, placed in pastures
of joy, and led to the waters of eternal comfort, shall, from age to age, incessantly sing the praises of her great Shepherd and Bishop, her King and her God!
[The church, still in captivity, 1-3. crieth unto God for help and redemption; 4-7. complaineth of her grievous afflictions; 8-13. describeth her former exaltation, and present depression, under the beautiful figure of a Vine: 14-16. returneth again to her supplications, and, 17—19. prayeth for the advent of Messiah, to quicken and comfort her, vowing all loyal obedience, adoration, and praise to him, as the author of her salvation.]
1. Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth.'
The Christian church is now become the 'Israel' of God: Jesus Christ is the Shepherd' of this Israel, who leadeth his people like a flock;' he dwelleth in the midst of them by his Spirit, as of old he dwelt in the holy places, between the cherubims.' Let us beseech him to hearken to our prayers, and to manifest the glory of his power in our defence and deliverance.
2 Before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, stir up thy strength, and come and save us.'
God is entreated to go forth, in his strength and his salvation, before the tribes of Israel, as formerly in the wilderness. Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, are particularly mentioned; perhaps, because, according to the established order, those three tribes immediately followed the ark and cherubim, the symbols of the divine pre
sence. See Numb. ii. 18.
3. Turn,' or restore, ' us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.'
This verse is a kind of chorus, occurring three times in the course of our Psalm. It implies, that the church is in captivity, from which she prayeth to be restored' to her former freedom and prosperity; that she expecteth such restoration, not from any might or merit of her own, but from the grace and mercy of her Saviour; as well
knowing, that her night can be turned into day, and her winter give place to spring, only by the Sun of righteousness rising, and causing his face to shine on her desolations. This ought, therefore, to be the wish and the prayer of every persecuted church, and of every afflicted soul.
4. O LORD God of hosts, how long wilt thou be angry against the prayer of thy people?'
The sins of a people may for a time separate between them and their God, and hide his face from them, that he will not hear;' Isa. lix. 2. he may cover himself with a cloud, that their prayers should not pass through:' Lam. iii. 44. and seem to reject even the devotions of his distressed servants, while he is proving the strength of their faith, and the sincerity of their repentance. But if the former be strong, and the latter sincere, they will continue to ask, till they have obtained; nor cease to knock till the door be opened.
5. Thou feedest them with the bread of tears,' or of weeping; and givest them tears to drink in great mea
There cannot be a more striking picture of Sion in captivity. Her bread is dipped in tears, and her cup is filled to the brim with them: no time is free from grief and lamentation. They who sin, must submit to penance; which if a man doth not impose on himself, God will impose it on him; whereas, if we judged ourselves, we should not be thus judged of the Lord. The church hath appointed seasons, and given directions, for this purpose: but who observes either the one or the other?
6. Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbours : and our enemies laugh among themselves.'
Israel, when forsaken by her God, was a prey for which all the neighbouring nations contended, exulting over her, and scoffing at that condition to which, not their counsels or armies, but her own iniquities, had reduced her. Hence let us learn how to form a just estimate of the real state both of communities and individuals. Righteousness alone exalteth man; sin is his reproach, and will be his destruction.
7. Turn us again, O God of hosts, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.' See above, ver. 3.