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The Psalm of Life
Psalm 1. "Happy is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly." We are more often in the company of evil spirits than we realize, and endorse their policy as the only one to pursue. It is worse when we follow it deliberately, and worst of all when we contemn correction. We ought to consider others in all we do in prosperity or adversity—by day or night. With the practice of this habit our knowledge of God’s life in man grows, and is productive of better thoughts and deeds. Unless the bad is separated from the good, life yields no lasting joy. The song strengthens that conviction every time we repeat it, or sing it.
"Rulers Take Counsel
against the Lord’s Anointed"
2. The transition from elation to depression is often startling. The onslaught of evil spirits may threaten to break the bonds of conscience, and violate principles held as sacred. The Christ— "The Anointed One"—suffered likewise. His judgments were in accord with "the Divine good itself of the Divine love" (Apocalypse Revealed #779), represented by the anointing oil. Consecration to the love of blessing all alike makes light of every attempt to break it down. The Lord Jesus is "the only begotten son of God" decreed to exercise power from on high to destroy man’s enemies—dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel—the figments of a false imagination. Our trials are lightened the sooner we contact the love of God in the Gospel message. "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry . . . Blessed are all they that put their trust in him."
"Salvation Belongeth unto the Lord"
3. The occasion—when David fled from Absalom; that is, when the law of love is dethroned by the law of truth. The arguments to disprove the value of any other interpretation of the law than our own, and to show the misrepresentations of all "foreign" interpretations, are common adversaries of the good life. A little of God’s love repels them and takes the bite out of argumentativeness. "‘The blessing of the Lord upon his people’ signifies the influx and reception of good and truth. They are called the people of the Lord, who are in spiritual good" (Apocalypse Explained #340).
4. A prayer for delivery from evil in times of temptation, and that the Lord may "lift up the light of his countenance upon us." "The face of the Lord is mercy, peace and every good" (Arcana Coelestia #222). "Charity, spiritual security and internal rest are peace" (Apocalypse Revealed #306). "In peace will I both lay me down and sleep; for thou, O Lord, only makest me to dwell in safety."
5. The evensong is accompanied by string instruments: reminiscences; the morning song by wind instruments, Nehiloth: fresh resolutions for new opportunities. We pray for freedom from arrogance, iniquity, lying, unkindness and deceit. "Make thy way straight before my face." Deliver us from all evil, and "compass us with favor as with a shield."
"O Lord, Rebuke Me Not in Thine Anger"
6. On Neginoth upon Sheminith, that is, on stringed instruments set to the lower octave, deep tones. All unhappiness is caused by evil. We smart under it, and are sometimes pushed to extremities that are almost unendurable. Evil is there, however, for diagnosis, and then for judgment. Salvation is nigh when we see the cause clearly, pray for help, and suppress the evil with the Lord’s help.
"The Lord Shall Judge the People"
7. Nothing is known of Cush, but 2 Samuel 18:21 may offer a parallel situation in the life of David. Shiggaion possibly indicates the setting of the psalm to a wandering, or changeful tune. The psalm is primarily a prayer by the Lord in His Human to the Father within, and secondarily an appeal by us for help from the Lord, when persecuted by evil spirits. If we had wronged our neighbor, we could have no cause for complaint. Being innocent, our claim for relief is justified. God is not angry with the wicked; they whet the sword against themselves. A curse is inseparable from vindictiveness. We shall "give thanks unto the Lord according to his righteousness."
The Dignity of Man
8. "Set to Gittith," probably an instrument, or tune, of Gath (1 Samuel 27). "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise" signifies that "praise can come to the Lord by no other way than through innocence, for by this alone is effected all communication and all influx, and consequently access. No one can see the face of God except from innocence" (Matthew 18:10, Arcana Coelestia #5236, 5608). Man—frail man—was made only a little lower than the angels, to have dominion over nature. This is predicated in the first instance of the Lord assuming our nature in humility, and making it Divine by ruling over all things in it. "By the flocks are signified in general all spiritual things with man, by the herds natural things with him, which correspond to spiritual, by the beasts of the fields the affections of good in the natural man which are of the church, for a field signifies the church. The birds of heaven signify the thoughts of the rational man, and the fishes of the sea scientifics" (Apocalypse Explained #1100).
"Thou Hast Rebuked the Nations"
9. Set to Muth-labben, "Death to the Son." It is good to think that the Lord rules the world, not the nations as we know them, but the groups within the nations that are held together, for good, or for evil; people with different ideologies, or religions, or conceptions of right and wrong. The Lord is the power behind the throne to those who put their trust in Him. But He is said to "make inquisition for blood," or avenge violence. In reality, "the nations are sunk down in the pit that they made. . . . The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. . . . Put them in fear, O Lord. Let the nations know themselves to be but frail men."
"The Lord Is King Forever"
10. The Psalmist draws the picture of a very wicked man, oppressing the poor, boastful, defiant, heartless, blasphemous, murderous, deceitful, and godless. Shall the Lord forget the poor, and the helpless? Shall He not break the arm of the wicked? Destroy his power to harm others? All evil is organic. The infraction of one commandment involves the breaking of all of them. The Lord opens our eyes to behold the content of an evil state of mind. It is appalling. All evil is futile. "Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the meek," who accept correction without resentment. "Thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear; to judge the fatherless and oppressed, that man who is of the earth may be terrible no more."
"The Righteous Lord Loveth Righteousness"
11. Every Christian has a lofty ideal, but finds it hard to reduce it to practical terms. When we endeavor to do so arguments are not wanting to disprove its application, and approve the ways of all flesh. The foundation of religion is at stake. The Lord is present to effect a judgment. He enables us to see the wrong and feel the assurance of his protection in upholding the right. "His eyelids try the children of men." Clinging to that opens the heart to his love with a hatred of evil that quickly consigns it to oblivion—at least for the time being. "The righteous Lord loveth righteousness; the upright doth behold his face."
12. Set to Sheminith—the lower octave again. "The godly man ceaseth." We see the dark side of life once more—false words, flattering lips, license in the name of freedom to say whatever we please to boost our own way. The words of the Lord are different. They are pure, like silver "tried in a furnace on the earth, purified seven times." The words of the Lord stood the test in his most bitter trials. They bear no comparison with the "idle words" of man (Matthew 12:36).
"Lighten Mine Eyes"
13. We forget the Lord as often as we lack compassion and mercy for those in need—and who is not in need of them? His face is hidden from us. We fail to understand the sufferings or needs of others, fail to see where we might be more just and helpful to them. Life is devoid of spirituality. That is the sleep of death. The Lord alone can lighten our eyes to know ourselves, and waken us to opportunities of sharing life in larger measure with others. "I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me." His mercy is everlasting.
The Return from Captivity
14. "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." Everything looks black to us; we can see no good anywhere. Life is not worth living. Occasionally we meet with kindness, or light upon someone who seems to be an exception to the rule. But things are not always as they seem. In God’s sight "there is none that doeth good, no, not one." We can trust no one! Then, no one can trust us! Quite possibly. But we can prove ourselves to be worthy. There is hope for everyone. Would to God that we could always feel that way. "When the Lord bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad."
"There’s No Place Like Home"
15. True! Yet there is no home, be it a house, city, country, or world, worthy of that title, except in so far as it is made a tent, or tabernacle, where God dwells; that is, where God’s love reigns supreme. The elements of a true home mentioned in this psalm are obvious. The last is by no means the least. A perfect home is free from usury or bribery—one for all, and all for one, "hoping for nothing again" (Luke 6:35).
"Thou Wilt Show Me the Path of Life"
16. Our path is neither smooth, nor obvious. The dangers are numerous, and at times alarming. We need the Lord’s protection and guidance, for we can think of no greater privilege in life than to be one with the Lord and his holy ones. Idolatry yields only sorrows for everyone. We have so much to be grateful for. The Lord instructs us in the way, and the power to do right, or be right, for the sake of others is always available. He condemns no one. We have no cause for sadness. At his right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Fellowship with God
17. A prayer from unfeigned lips. How frequently our prayers and praise are "vain repetitions!" We need to draw ourselves together to mean what we say. We purpose to do right, and note some changes in our ways of living as a result of effort. But we need further protection, a greater horror of evils that still compass us, and a strong deliverance from wickedness and the follies of the world. Nothing short of Christian fellowship can compensate for life’s trials. "I shall be satisfied when I awake with thy likeness."
"I Will Sing Praises unto Thy Name"
18. This song also appears in 2 Samuel 22 at the close of David’s reign. The Psalmist exults in the power of God’s truth. He draws upon the works of nature to illustrate its power to enlighten, and defend and save. The king thanks God for his righteousness and guiltlessness (his clean hands), and then expatiates on the victories won by God’s assistance. "Great deliverance giveth he to his king; and showeth mercy to his anointed, to David, and to his seed forevermore." The song expresses the Lord’s gratitude for triumph in temptation. And we may share His joy in recalling the aid extended to us in time of trial.
The Glory of Nature and Revelation
19. The silent testimony of nature to the glory of God grows with a deeper knowledge of its wonders. For this world is only a reflection of the world within—the spiritual world—with its sun at the center of things. "And nothing is hid from the heat thereof"; that is, from God’s love. Throughout both realms, however, we discover the reign of law, revealing the will of God for our salvation. Our smallness appears in contrast with His greatness. We pray to Him as our rock and our redeemer for freedom from presumptuousness, and every secret sin.
"Help from the Sanctuary"
20. This is a prayer for confirmation of formal worship by signs following (Mark 16:20). "The Lord fulfill all thy petitions . . . with the saving strength of his right hand." Some trust in dogma, or in intellectualism. To us "the shunning of evils is the Christian religion itself" (Divine Providence #265). "Save, Lord; let the king hear us when we call."
"The King Shall Joy in Thy Strength, O Lord"
21. The king represents the law—the principle according to which we desire to regulate our conduct. Our effort to conform to it is crowned with success. "Thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance. For the king trusteth in the Lord." The Lord’s love is back of every principle that makes for righteousness, and gives promise of victories in conflicts yet to follow. "Be thou exalted, Lord, in thine own strength; so will we sing and praise thy power."
"Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?"
22. "Set to Aijeleth hash-shahan" ("the hind of the morning"); probably in reference to a well-known melody, but suggestive of a live expectation of the dawn of a new day. The first part of the song is reminiscent of the Lord’s crucifixion. Verses 1, 7, 8 and 18 contain verbal references to that scene. Night often comes upon us before we are aware of it. Our trial may drive us to extreme despair, but issue in a more far-reaching understanding of the Lord’s Providence. "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord."
"The Good Shepherd"
23. The Lord has a personal interest in each member of his flock, to nurture kindly feelings toward others, and learn how to cooperate with them. He is always present to protect us in trouble, and through his Word to comfort and to enrich our lives to the prolongation of our days. Evil loses its hold over us.
"The King of Glory"
24. The church is founded upon the truth men believe both spiritual and natural. They belong to the church who do right, and are pure in heart and perfectly sincere. Wheresoever, or whensoever, men are moved by the desire to establish God’s kingdom on earth the call comes to open their hearts that the King of glory may enter, and so direct their lives to bring order out of chaos the world over.
Aspiration after Holiness
25. There are many things in our lives both within and without of which we are heartily ashamed. We long to make reparation. "Show me thy ways, O Lord . . . . Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions . . . . For thy name’s sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great. . . . The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will show them his covenant. . . . O keep my soul, and deliver me; let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in thee. . . . Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles." Israel always represents the spiritual man.
Saints and Sinners
26. Many of the psalms lose their force entirely when we contrast our way with the way of sinners. "I have walked in mine integrity. . . . I will not sit with the wicked." We cannot judge our fellowmen without degrading ourselves. The sinners are evil spirits who are with us, about whom we should be entirely ignorant, were it not for the evil in ourselves which they stir up. They are there with us just as long as we enjoy their company. The longer we cultivate their company, the harder it is to get away from them. "Judge me, O Lord. . . . gather not my soul with sinners. . . . Redeem me, and be merciful unto me. My foot standeth in an even place; in the congregations will I bless the Lord."
"I Will Sing Praises unto the Lord"
27. "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?" Yes, we may not hate our enemies, but we fear them. We are afraid to speak the truth, or to be honest, or pure, or humble, or upright. We fear to renounce the company of our enemies within, whom we have treated as our friends. We risk being misunderstood, or losing prestige, or profit, or pleasure. The psalm becomes really inspiring when experience has proved us to be great cowards, and in sore need of patience and perseverance, waiting on the Lord to renew our courage, and strengthen the heart for decisive action in the time of trial.
"Lift Thy People Up Forever"
28. There is no more common pit into which men fall than that of justifying resentment to real or imaginary injuries. Have we ever been in that pit or hell, dark, cold, and comfortless, and hated the sight of it, or even the thought of it? The cry to God with hands "uplifted toward his holy oracle," means much. The supplication for help when tempted to fall again is never left unanswered. Our horror of the evil weakens its grip on us, until we cease to justify it, and feel the uplifting power of God’s love sustaining life on a higher level.
"The Voice of the Lord"
29. There is glory and power in the voice of the Lord to the mighty; that is, to those who are made mighty by the truth, and "worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." Everything that lives in nature and in man, both body and soul, proclaims the majesty of the Divine Truth. The glory of it all appears, like the rising sun, with a growing perception of God’s love in everything He has made. But especially the voice of the Lord proceeds from his Word to shatter all fallacies and evils that weaken humanity and destroy the peace of the world.
"Song at the Dedication
of the House of David"
30. The house of David represents the good of brotherly love. The Lord, "the son of David," exemplified that love in the highest degree. This song of David praises God for deliverance from evil and from a deadly sickness. It renders thanks for the restoration of joy after sorrowing, and relief from all his troubles. The Lord turned his mourning into dancing, put off his sackcloth, and girded him with gladness. "To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto thee forever." This means the dedication of every least gain in life through trial to the greater happiness of others.
Trust in the Lord
31. We naturally turn to the Lord for protection in time of trouble. Our faith needs strengthening, for we are so anxious about the morrow. We fear the worst. "Mine eye wasteth away with grief, for my life is spent in sorrow. My strength faileth because of mine iniquity." Our enemies reproach us, our friends distrust us. Deliverance follows the pursuit of constancy, even though for a time we feared that the Lord had forsaken us altogether. "O love the Lord. . . . be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord."
"Be Glad in the Lord"
32. Life centers in our thoughts and feelings. Frequently these thoughts and feelings are evil, and sometimes they are very grievous and tenacious. They are there, however, for judgment. The clearer our judgment of their noxiousness, and the more closely we cling to right feelings, the sooner our evil thoughts loosen their grip, and at last pass into oblivion. Our transgressions are forgiven, our sins covered, and we rejoice in the work of the Lord—songs of deliverance compass us about. Submit your will to the Lord and He will guide your thoughts aright. Be not as the horse or mule held in with bit and bridle. "He that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about."
"Praise Is Comely for the Upright"
33. Praise dies with silence, but expands with every fitting expression of it. We have good reason to thank the Lord for his Word. By it all things have been brought into existence. The Lord governs the nations in the best interests of everyone. Specially blessed is "the nation whose God is the Lord, and the people whom he hath chosen for his inheritance." Neither popularity, nor self-sufficiency, nor self-intelligence can redeem humanity. "The eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, and hope in his mercy. . . . Our heart shall rejoice in him, because we have trusted in his holy name. Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in thee."
"I Sought the Lord, and He Heard Me"
34. A Psalm of David when he feigned madness in Philistia. Generally speaking the nation that is defeated in war and enslaved is determined to win its freedom and punish the victor. A voice that says, "This is wicked; you should love your enemies, and return good for evil" sounds like the voice of a madman. No Christian need fear to challenge the spirit of retaliation rampant in the world today; and every Christian should be free from malice in answer to his prayer, "Hallowed be thy Name." This song strengthens the soul in pursuit of this ideal. Note especially verses 4, 7, 9 and 14. The Lord came to save, and not condemn. The punishment of evil is inherent in the evil thought or deed (see verse 21, Apocalypse Explained #412). "Guilt stands for all sin which remains; its separation by good from the Lord is redemption" (Arcana Coelestia #3400).
The Vindication of a Just Cause
35. This psalm reflects the vindictive spirit of the times in which it was written. It could not possibly have been used in that literal sense by the Lord, the son of David. It is marvelous, however, to discover the inspiration and strength that is drawn from it. Immediately the literal sense is transformed into the spiritual sense, the enemies without represent the enemies within: the evil in ourselves, notably fear and malice, which figured so prominently in the preceding psalm. "Let the Lord be magnified, which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant, and my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long."
"The Fountain of Life"
36. The love of evil creates the impression that our "iniquity will not be found out and be hated." We deceive ourselves when we imagine that we can devise mischief, and be none the worse for it. A moment’s consideration of the faithfulness and lovingkindness of the Heavenly Father opens our eyes to our duplicity and unworthiness. With Him alone is the fountain of life; in his light we see light. "’Continue thy lovingkindness. . . . Let not the foot of pride come against me. . . . The workers of iniquity are cast down, and shall not be able to rise."
"Rest in the Lord"
37. Resting and fretting are opposites, and cannot be together. Either puts an end to the other. Why worry about the success of evildoers? Why get vexed or impatient over reverses, or rebuffs? "The meek shall inherit the earth." Fretting tends only to evil doing. To be at rest does not imply indifference, or unconcern. Rest in the Lord turns the activity wasted in fretfulness into constructive channels. We rest in the Lord as we "depart from evil, and do good," and wait patiently with confidence that, soon or late, right will triumph over wrong. "The salvation of the righteous is of the Lord."
The Lord Is My Savior
38. This psalm is "to bring to remembrance" probably in connection with the offering of the "memorial" of incense (Leviticus 2:2, 24:7). It is a prayer of one in suffering, deserted by his friends (verse 11), and beset by enemies. He suffers persecution for righteousness’ sake. He follows that which is good, and pleads for aid. "Forsake me not, O Lord; O my God, be not far from me. Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation."
"The Lord’s Patience
in the State of Temptations"
39. "Silence is golden" when we are impatient under suffering. Musing on our impatience, we conclude that life is too short to waste time through loss of temper over nothing. "Man at his best state is altogether vanity." We "walk in a vain show." Neither money nor knowledge can buy health of body, or soul. "My hope is in thee; deliver me from all my transgressions. . . . O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more." Time lost in doing our daily task is hard to make up again.
"I Waited Patiently for the Lord"
40. We are in a horrible pit, in the depths in an inextricable mess. We long for relief. The Lord draws us upward—if we let Him—plants our feet on a rock, establishes our goings, and puts a new song in our mouths, even praise unto our God. It is a wonderful experience, greater than exaltation in worship. "Lo, I come; in the volume of the book it is written of me." See that experience in the light of the New Testament, in the resurrection of the Lord! The law is then written upon the heart. Let all men know it. We live to separate good from evil, that "such as love thy salvation may say continually, The Lord be magnified."
"Heal My Soul!"
41. A Psalm of, or to David, who represents the Lord. At the close of Passion Week the Lord was exceedingly sick at heart. There were spirits present to comfort and strengthen Him "on the bed of languishing." The disciples were sympathetic, though greatly troubled and afraid. There were also evil spirits who hated Him, and prophesied that He would "die, and his name perish." And there were spirits present who expected to profit by his betrayal, spirits with "mine own familiar friend, . . . . which did eat of my bread, and lifted up his heel against me" (John 13:18, 26). The Lord prayed the Father to be merciful unto Him, and raise Him up to requite them. "By this I know that thou favorest me, because mine enemy doth not triumph over me. And as for me, thou upholdest me in mine integrity, and settest me before thy face forever" (Revelation 3:21). And so Book 1 of the Psalter closes with the fitting doxology: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting. Amen, and Amen."
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