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Notebook: The Maschil Psalms (2)

J Grant

Last month’s "BM Notebook" dealt with the first seven of the Maschil psalms. The six which follow are now considered. The previous article stated that there are three ways of studying these psalms. First, they can be looked at as good practical spiritual advice for today. Second, they can be considered as part of the history and worship of Israel. Third, they can be studied as psalms that will be read by the remnant of Israel in the Tribulation, encouraging them as they wait for the coming of Messiah.

Psalm 55

This psalm of David is one of distress and almost of despair. It is generally considered to have been composed at the time of Absalom’s rebellion, when David had to flee from Jerusalem. "My heart is sore pained within me: and the terrors of death are fallen upon me" (v.4) sums up his heartbreak. David knew that what had overcome him was due to his sin in the matter of Bathsheba. His troubles now were due to his past conduct - many saints have experienced this and understood the cause. His complaint (vv.1-8) is brought before God. His desire is that he had "wings like a dove" (v.6) to fly away and to be at rest. The troubles through which he was passing seem to have no answer, no sign of ending, leaving him with the burning desire to leave them behind him and seek peace and rest away from it all. How many believers have felt as David felt?

But his attitude seems to change. The call that he makes (vv.8-15) is for the Lord to defeat and destroy his enemies. The pain that they caused was all the greater because his close friend, with whom he took "sweet counsel", had betrayed him and was confederate with Absalom.

His confidence returns, however (vv.16-23). He will call on the name of the Lord and He will save him. His prayers and cries will be heard in heaven. May it be that all who are passing though dark circumstances learn the lesson of these verses and be able to say, "He hath delivered my soul (v.18).

Psalm 74

There are differences of opinion as to when this psalm was written. One view is that it refers to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem when the Babylonians invaded. The opening cry (vv.1-3) is almost uttered in unbelief. How could God allow this disaster to overtake them? This is a call that is often raised by others when the Lord disciplines them. The extent of the disaster is described (vv.4-9). The Sanctuary has been defiled: that Sanctuary, which had been in place since the reign of Solomon, was now desecrated and destroyed. Of all the disaster and pain that had overtaken Judah the greatest was that the Sanctuary was no more. The psalmist, having raised the question "Why" in v.1, now asks it again and compares the power exercised by God in the past with the current calamity (vv.10-17).

The last section of the psalm (vv.18-23) is a plea to the Lord to remember His people, delivered as helpless as a turtledove into the hands of the enemy. But it is also a plea for the Lord not to forget the covenant. He could not and would not forget it. The destruction of Jerusalem by the enemy was not because God had forgotten the covenant, but that the nation had forgotten their part in that covenant, and the statement they voiced: "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do" (Ex 19.8). The final plea is for the Lord to work: "Arise, O God" (v.22).

Psalm 78

The opening verses of this psalm (vv.1-8) reveal its purpose: "Give ear, O my people" (v.1). It consists of an account of the dealings of God with Israel in the past with the purpose of instructing each generation. These are things of which the writer states, "our fathers have told us" (v.3). It was necessary in Israel for each generation to be taught what had transpired in the past so that they would not be "a stubborn and rebellious generation" (v.8). The lesson for today is just as valid. The history of Israel as presented in Scripture is replete with lessons that have to be taught to all generations. The account of this history is set out (vv.9-72). The gracious and mighty ways of God with the nation met with a dark response. "They kept not the covenant of God" (v.10); they "trusted not in his salvation" (v.22); "They were not estranged from their lust" (v.30). These are but some of the proofs of their infidelity. What a contrast is this to the faithfulness of God: "he led them on safely" (v.53); "He cast out the heathen also before them" (v.55). Their behaviour caused God to be "wroth" (v.59), and the departure of the Ark out of the Tabernacle, recorded in 1 Samuel 4, took place. Despite all this the Lord chose David to be king. He "built his sanctuary" (v.69) and "fed them according to the integrity of his heart" (v.72).

Let us, therefore, be taught from this glorious, but sad, record. God is faithful; His ways will triumph, but He will not tolerate persistent disobedience.

Psalm 88

This is the psalm of one who is experiencing great trouble. It has been reckoned to be the darkest and most sorrowful of all the psalms. It commences with the words, "I have cried day and night before thee" (v.1), and ends with "darkness" (v.18). The outline given by John Phillips shows the depths of the psalmist’s mind: No future left (vv.1-7); No friends left (vv.8); No foundation left (vv.9-12); No faith left (13-18).1

The psalm commences with the cry, "O Lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee" (v.1). How telling are his statements: "Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit" (v.6); "Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction" (v.9); "Lord, why casteth thou off my soul" (v.14). It is remarkable that the outcome of such deep trouble is not given to us, but Psalm 89 waits to clear the darkness.

Psalm 89

This Psalm is indeed calm after the storm; sunrise after shadow. It has been called the Psalm of the Covenant. Four times is the covenant brought to the attention of the reader (vv.3,28,34,39). The unfailing goodness of God is first mentioned (vv.1-4). The writer states that his purpose is to "make known thy faithfulness to all generations" (v.1). The covenant with David is the basis of this. Once again the faithfulness of God in fulfilling His word is declared, and today believers must have the same confidence that the Lord will fulfil all His promises. From vv.5-14 the Psalmist lauds the greatness of God. "Who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord?", is a rhetorical question; in the assembly of His saints He is to be greatly feared (vv.6-7); He rules the raging of the sea (v.9), and it can be said of Him, "The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine" (v.11). There follows the great joy of the people who are blessed with such a God (vv.15-18), and this, in turn, is followed by the setting out of the terms of the Davidic covenant (vv.19-37). The conclusion (vv.38-51) consists of the benediction and a double "Amen".

Psalm 142

This short psalm is the last of the Maschil psalms. The heading states that it was written when David was in the cave. This may have been when he was in the cave of Adullam (1 Sam 22.1-4) or in the cave at Engedi when he was fleeing from Saul (1 Sam 23.29-24.22).

There are two parts to the psalm, the first being a complaint (vv.1-4), and the second a cry for help from the Lord. He is alone! "In the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me" (v.3), and "refuge failed me; no man cared from my soul" (v.4). The loneliness of his situation gripped him and with his voice "unto the Lord" he made his supplication (v.1). He is confident in the midst of his troubles that although his enemies will be his persecutors the Lord will deliver him and deal bountifully with him. Then he will praise the name of the Lord.

What lessons there are in these psalms for believers of all ages. The truth that rings through them all is that God is faithful, despite our failure, and with confidence we can continue to follow Him and let Him act according to His good will. In this way we can rest on the Lord with confidence.

1 John Phillips; Exploring the Psalms.


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