The second event recorded as important in the bright early years is the great promise of the perpetuity of the kingdom in David's house. As soon as the king was firmly established and free from war, he remembered the ancient word which said, |When He giveth you rest from all your enemies round about, so that ye dwell in safety, then there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there| (Deut. xii.10, 11). His own ease rebukes him; he regards his tranquillity not as a season for selfish indolence, but as a call to new forms of service. He might well have found in the many troubles and vicissitudes of his past life an excuse for luxurious repose now. But devout souls will consecrate their leisure as their toil to God, and will serve Him with thankful offerings in peace whom they invoked with earnest cries in battle. Prosperity is harmless only when it is accepted as an opportunity for fresh forms of devotion, not as an occasion for idle self-indulgence. So we read, with distinct verbal reference to the words already quoted, that |when the Lord had given him rest round about from all his enemies, the king said unto Nathan the prophet, See now, I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth in curtains.| The impulse of generous devotion, which cannot bear to lavish more upon self than it gives to God, at first commended itself to the prophet; but in the solitude of his nightly thoughts the higher wisdom speaks in his spirit, and the word of God gives him a message for the king. The narrative in 2 Sam. makes no mention of David's warlike life as unfitting him for the task, which we find from 2 Chron. was one reason why his purpose was set aside, but brings into prominence the thought that David's generous impulse was outrunning God's commandment, and that his ardour to serve was in some danger of forgetting his entire dependence on God, and of fancying that God would be the better for him. So the prophetic message reminds him that the Lord had never, through all the centuries, asked for a house of cedar, and recalls the past life of David as having been wholly shaped and blessed by Him, while it pointedly inverts the king's proposal in its own grand promise, |The Lord telleth thee that He will make thee an house.| Then follows the prediction of a son of David who should build the house, whose kingdom should be perpetual, whose transgressions should be corrected indeed, but never punished as those of the unhappy Saul; and then, in emphatic and unmistakable words, the perpetuity of David's house, his kingdom, and his throne, is reiterated as the close of the whole.
The wonderful burst of praise which sprang from David's heart in answer cannot be dealt with here; but clearly from that time onwards a new element had been added to his hopes, and a new object presented to his faith. The prophecy of the Messiah enters upon a new stage, bearing a relation, as its successive stages, always unmistakably did, to the history which supplies a framework for it. Now for the first time can he be set forth as the king of Israel; now the width of the promise which at first had embraced the seed of the woman, and then had been narrowed to the seed of Abraham, and thereafter probably to the tribe of Judah, is still further defined as to be fulfilled in the line of the house of David; now the personal Messiah Himself begins to be discerned through the words which are to have a preparatory fulfilment, in itself prophetic, in the collective Davidic monarchs whose very office is itself also a prophecy.
Many echoes of this new message ring through the later psalms of the king. His own dominion, his conquests, and his office, gradually became to himself a solemn prophecy of a mysterious descendant who should be really and fully all that he was in shadow and in part. As the experience of the exile, so that of the victorious monarch supplied the colours with which the spirit of prophecy in him painted |beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow.| In both classes of psalms we have two forms of the Messianic reference, the typical and the purely prophetic. In the former the events of David's own biography and the feelings of his own soul are so portrayed and expressed as to suggest his greater Son. In the latter, the personality of the psalmist retreats into the background, and is at most only the starting-point for wails of sorrow or gleams of glory which far transcend anything in the life of the singer. There are portions, for instance, of the xxii. and lxix. psalms which no torturing can force into correspondence with any of David's trials; and in like manner there are paeans of victory and predictions of dominion which demand a grander interpretation than his own royalty or his hopes for his house can yield. Of course, if prophecy is impossible, there is no more to be said, but that in that case a considerable part of the Old Testament, including many of David's psalms, is unintelligible.
Perhaps the clearest instance of distinct prophecy of the victorious dominion of the personal Messiah is the 110th psalm. In it we do see, no doubt, the influence of the psalmist's own history, shaping the image which rises before his soul. But the attributes of that king whom he beholds are not his attributes, nor those of any son of his who wore the crown in Israel. And whilst his own history gives the form, it is |the Spirit of Christ that was in| him which gives the substance, and transfigures the earthly monarchy into a heavenly dominion. We do not enter upon the question of the Davidic authorship of this psalm. Here we have not to depend upon Jewish superscriptions, but on the words of Him whose bare assertion should be |an end of all strife.| Christ says that David wrote it. Some of us are far enough behind the age to believe that what He said He meant, and that what He meant is truth.
This psalm, then, being David's, can hardly be earlier than the time of Nathan's prophecy. There are traces in it of the influence of the history of the psalmist, giving, as we have said, form to the predictions. Perhaps we may see these in Zion being named as the seat of Messiah's sovereignty and in the reference to Melchizedek, both of which points assume new force if we suppose that the ancient city over which that half-forgotten name once ruled had recently become his own. Possibly, too, his joy in exchanging his armour and kingly robe for the priest's ephod, when he brought up the ark to its rest, and his consciousness that in himself the regal and the sacerdotal offices did not blend, may have led him to meditations on the meaning of both, on the miseries that seemed to flow equally from their separation and from their union, which were the precursors of his hearing the Divine oath that, in the far-off future, they would be fused together in that mighty figure who was to repeat in higher fashion the union of functions which invested that dim King of Righteousness and Priest of God in the far-off past. He discerns that his support from the right hand of God, his sceptre which he swayed in Zion, his loyal people fused together into a unity at last, his triumphant warfare on the nations around, are all but faint shadows of One who is to come. That solemn form on the horizon of hope is his Lord, the true King whose viceroy he was, the |bright consummate flower| for the sake of which the root has its being. And, as he sees the majestic lineaments shimmering through the facts of his own history, like some hidden fire toiling in a narrow space ere it leaps into ruddy spires that burst their bonds and flame heaven high, he is borne onwards by the prophetic impulse, and the Spirit of God speaks through his tongue words which have no meaning unless their theme be a Divine ruler and priest for all the world.
He begins with the solemn words with which a prophetic message is wont to be announced, thus at the outset stamping on the psalm its true character. The |oracle| or |word of Jehovah unto my Lord,| which he heard, is a new revelation made to him from the heavens. He is taken up and listens to the Divine voice calling to His right hand, to the most intimate communion with Himself, and to wielding the energies of omnipotence -- Him whom David knew to be his lord. And when that Divine voice ceases, its mandate having been fulfilled, the prophetic spirit in the seer hymns the coronation anthem of the monarch enthroned by the side of the majesty in the heavens. |The sceptre of Thy strength will Jehovah send out of Zion. Rule Thou in the midst of Thine enemies.| In singular juxtaposition are the throne at God's right hand and the sceptre -- the emblem of sovereignty -- issuing from Zion, a dominion realised on earth by a monarch in the heavens, a dominion the centre of which is Zion, and the undefined extent universal. It is a monarchy, too, established in the midst of enemies, sustained in spite of antagonism not only by the power of Jehovah, but by the activity of the sovereign's own |rule.| It is a dominion for the maintenance of which devout souls will burst into prayer, and the most powerful can bring but their aspirations. But the vision includes more than the warrior king and his foes. Imbedded, as it were, in the very heart of the description of the former comes the portraiture of his subjects, for a witness how close is the union between Him and them, and how inseparable from His glories are those who serve Him. They are characterised in a threefold manner. |Thy people (shall be) willing in the day of Thine array.| The army is being mustered.[U] They are not mercenaries, nor pressed men. They flock gladly to the standard, like the warriors celebrated of old in Deborah's chant of victory, who |willingly offered themselves.| The word of our psalm might be translated |freewill offerings,| and the whole clause carries us into the very heart of that great truth, that glad consecration and grateful self-surrender is the one bond which knits us to the Captain of our salvation who gave Himself for us, to the meek Monarch whose crown is of thorns and His sceptre a reed, for tokens that His dominion rests on suffering and is wielded in gentleness. The next words should be punctuated as a separate clause, co-ordinate with the former, and adding another feature to the description of the army. |In the beauties of holiness| is a common name for the dress of the priests: the idea conveyed is that the army is an army of priests, as the king himself is a priest. They are clothed, not in mail and warlike attire, but in |fine linen clean and white,| like the armies which a later prophet saw following the Lord of lords. Their warfare is not to be by force and cruelty, nor their conquests bloody; but while soldiers they are to be priests, their weapons purity and devotion, their merciful struggle to bring men to God, and to mirror God to men. Round the one image gather all ideas of discipline, courage, consecration to a cause, loyalty to a leader; round the other, all thoughts of gentleness, of an atmosphere of devotion calm and still as the holy place, of stainless character. Christ's servants must be both soldiers and priests, like some of those knightly orders who bore the cross on helmet and shield, and shaped the very hilts of their swords into its likeness. And these soldier-priests are described by yet another image, |From the womb of the morning thou hast the dew of thy youth,| where we are to regard the last word as used in a collective sense, and equivalent to |Thy young warriors.| They are like the dew sparkling in infinite globelets on every blade of grass, hanging gems on every bit of dead wood, formed in secret silence, reflecting the sunlight, and, though the single drops be small and feeble, yet together freshening the thirsty world. So, formed by an unseen and mysterious power, one by one insignificant, but in the whole mighty, mirroring God and quickening and beautifying the worn world, the servants of the priest-king are to be |in the midst of many people like the dew from the Lord.|
[U] The word translated |power| in our version, has the same double meaning as that has in old English, or as |force| has now, sometimes signifying |strength| and sometimes an |army.| The latter is the more appropriate here. |The day of Thine army| will then be equivalent to the day of mustering the troops.
Another solemn word from the lips of God begins the second half of the psalm. |Jehovah swears,| gives the sanction and guarantee of His own nature, puts in pledge His own being for the fulfilment of the promise. And that which He swears is a new thing in the earth. The blending of the royal and priestly offices in the Messiah, and the eternal duration in Him of both, is a distinct advancement in the development of Messianic prophecy. The historical occasion for it may indeed be connected with David's kingship and conquest of Melchizedek's city; but the real source of it is a direct predictive inspiration. We have here not merely the devout psalmist meditating on the truths revealed before his day, but the prophet receiving a new word from God unheard by mortal ears, and far transcending even the promises made to him by Nathan. There is but one person to whom it can apply, who sits as a priest upon his throne, who builds the temple of the Lord (Zech. vi.12, 13).
As the former Divine word, so this is followed by the prophet's rapturous answer, which carries on the portraiture of the priest-king. There is some doubt as to the person addressed in these later verses. |The Lord at thy right hand crushes kings in the day of His wrath.| Whose right hand? The answer generally given is, |The Messiah's.| Who is the Lord that smites the petty kinglets of earth? The answer generally given is, |God.| But it is far more dramatic, avoids an awkward abruptness in the change of persons in the last verse, and brings out a striking contrast with the previous half, if we take the opposite view, and suppose Jehovah addressed and the Messiah spoken of throughout. Then the first Divine word is followed by the prophetic invocation of the exalted Messiah throned at the right hand and expecting till His enemies be made His footstool. The second is followed by the prophetic invocation of Jehovah, and describes the Lord Messiah at God's right hand as before, but instead of longer waiting He now flames forth in all the resistless energy of a conqueror. The day of His array is succeeded by the day of His wrath. He crushes earth's monarchies. The psalmist's eye sees the whole earth one great battle-field. |(It is) full of corpses. He wounds the head over wide lands,| where there may possibly be a reference to the first vague dawning of a hope which God's mercy had let lighten on man's horizon -- |He shall bruise thy head,| or the word may be used as a collective expression for rulers, as the parallelism with the previous verse requires. Thus striding on to victory across the prostrate foe, and pursuing the flying relics of their power, |He drinks of the brook in the way, therefore shall He lift up the head,| words which are somewhat difficult, however interpreted. If, with the majority of modern commentators, we take them as a picturesque embodiment of eager haste in the pursuit, the conqueror |faint, yet pursuing,| and stooping for a moment to drink, then hurrying on with renewed strength after the fugitives, one can scarcely help feeling that such a close to such a psalm is trivial and liker the artificial play of fancy than the work of the prophetic spirit, to say nothing of the fact that there is nothing about pursuit in the psalm. If we fall back on the older interpretation, which sees in the words a prophecy of the sufferings of the Messiah who tastes death and drinks of the cup of sorrows, and therefore is highly exalted, we get a meaning which worthily crowns the psalm, but seems to break somewhat abruptly the sequence of thought, and to force the metaphor of drinking of the brook into somewhat strained parallelism with the very different New Testament images just named. But the doubt we must leave over these final words does not diminish the preciousness of this psalm as a clear, articulate prophecy from David's lips of David's Son, whom he had learned to know through the experiences and facts of his own life. He had climbed through sufferings to his throne. God had exalted him and given him victory, and surrounded him with a loyal people. But he was only a shadow; limitations and imperfections surrounded his office and weakened himself; half of the Divine counsel of peace could not be mirrored in his functions at all, and death lay ahead of him. So his glory and his feebleness alike taught him that |one mightier than| he must be coming behind him, |the latchet of whose shoes he was not worthy to unloose| -- the true King of Israel, to bear witness to whom was his highest honour.
The third characteristic of the first seventeen years of David's reign is his successful wars with surrounding nations. The gloomy days of defeat and subjugation which had darkened the closing years of Saul are over now, and blow after blow falls with stunning rapidity on the amazed enemies. The narrative almost pants for breath as it tells with hurry and pride how, south, and east, and north, the |lion of the tribe of Judah| sprang from his fastness, and smote Philistia, Edom, Moab, Ammon, Amalek, Damascus, and the Syrians beyond, even to the Euphrates; and the bounding courage of king and people, and the unity of heart and hand with which they stood shoulder to shoulder in many a bloody field, ring through the psalms of this period. Whatever higher meaning may be attached to them, their roots are firm in the soil of actual history, and they are first of all the war-songs of a nation. That being so, that they should also be inspired hymns for the church in all ages will present no difficulty nor afford any consecration to modern warfare, if the progressive character of revelation be duly kept in mind. There is a whole series of such psalms, such as xx., xxi., lx., and probably lxviii. We cannot venture in our limited space on any analysis of the last of these. It is a splendid burst of national triumph and devout praise, full of martial ardour, throbbing with lofty consciousness of God's dwelling in Israel, abounding with allusions to the ancient victories of the people, and world-wide in its anticipations of future triumph. How strange the history of its opening words has been! Through the battle smoke of how many a field they have rung! On the plains of the Palatinate, from the lips of Cromwell's Ironsides, and from the poor peasants that went to death on many a bleak moor for Christ's crown and covenant, to the Doric music of their rude chant --
|Let God arise, and scattered
Let all His enemies be;
And let all those that do Him hate,
Before His presence flee.|
The sixtieth psalm is assigned to David after Joab's signal victory over the Edomites (2 Sam. viii.). It agrees very well with that date, though the earlier verses have a wailing tone so deep over recent disasters, so great that one is almost inclined to suppose that they come from a later hand than his. But after the first verses all is warlike energy and triumph. How the glad thought of ruling over a united people dances in the swift words, |I will rejoice, I will divide Shechem, and mete out the valley of Succoth;| he has, as it were, repeated Joshua's conquest and division of the land, and the ancient historical sites that fill a conspicuous place in the history of his great ancestor are in his power. |Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine, Ephraim also is the defence of my head, Judah my staff of command.| He looks eastward to the woods and pastoral uplands across the Jordan, whose inhabitants had been but loosely attached to the western portion of the nation, and triumphs in knowing that Gilead and Manasseh own his sway. The foremost tribes on this side the river are to him like the armour and equipments of a conqueror; he wears the might of Ephraim, the natural head of the northern region, as his helmet, and he grasps the power of Judah as his baton of command or sceptre of kingly rule (Gen. xlix.10).
Thus, strong in the possession of a united kingdom, his flashing eye turns to his enemies, and a stern joy, mingled with contempt, blazes up as he sees them reduced to menial offices and trembling before him. |Moab (is) my washing-basin; to Edom will I fling my shoe; because of me, Philistia, cry out| (in fear). The three ancestral foes that hung on Israel's southern border from east to west are subdued. He will make of one |a vessel of dishonour| to wash his feet, soiled with battle; he will throw his shoes to another the while, as one would to a slave to take care of; and the third, expecting a like fate, shrieks out in fear of the impending vengeance. He pants for new victories, |Who will bring me into (the) strong city?| probably the yet unsubdued Petra, hidden away in its tortuous ravine, with but one perilous path through the gorge. And at last all the triumph of victory rises to a higher region of thought in the closing words, which lay bare the secret of his strength, and breathe the true spirit of the soldier of Jehovah. |In God we shall do valiantly; and He, even He, shall tread down our enemies.|
The twentieth psalm, another of these stirring war-songs, is in that choral manner which we have already seen in psalm xxiv., and the adoption of which was probably connected with David's careful organization of |the service of song.| It is all ablaze with the light of battle and the glow of loyal love.
The army, ready drawn up for action, as we may fancy, prays for the king, who, according to custom, brings sacrifices and offerings before the fight. |Jehovah 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 thine offerings, and accept thy burnt sacrifice.| Then, as they wave their standards in the sunshine, or plant before the ranks of each tribe its cognizance, to be defended to the death, the hoarse shout rises from the files, |In the name of our God we will set up (or wave) our banners.| Then the single voice of the king speaks, rejoicing in his soldiers' devotion, which he accepts as an omen that his sacrifice has not been in vain: |Now know I that Jehovah saveth His anointed. He will hear him from the heaven of His holiness with the strength of the salvation of His right hand;| not merely from a God dwelling in Zion, according to language of the previous prayer, but from the Lord in the heavens, will the strength come. Then again the chorus of the host exclaims, as they look across the field to the chariots and cavalry of the foe -- forces which Israel seldom used -- |These (boast[V]) of chariots, and those of horses, and we, of the name of Jehovah, our God, do we boast.| Ere a sword has been drawn, they see the enemy scattered. |They are brought down and fallen; and we, we are risen and stand upright.| Then one earnest cry to God, one more thought of the true monarch of Israel, whom David would teach them to feel he only shadowed; and with the prayer, |Jehovah! save! Let the King hear us in the day when we cry,| ringing like the long trumpet blast that sounds for the charge, they dash forth to victory!
[V] Lit. |make mention of| or |commemorate.|