Prayer for the Preservation of the Church.
Maschil, a didactic poem, of Asaph, a prophetic psalm, foretelling some of the afflictions which would befall the Church of God, in the Old Testament as well as in the New. V. 1. O God, why hast Thou cast us off forever? this being the conclusion reached by the psalmist in considering the condition of the spiritual Israel as he saw it in spirit. Why doth Thine anger smoke, the smoking of the nostrils as with an inner fire being the picture frequently used in the Hebrew language to denote violent anger, against the sheep of Thy pasture? this being a common designation of the believers throughout the Bible. Cp. John 10. V. 2. Remember Thy congregation, not only thinking of it in mercy, but showing His favor in deeds of kindness, which Thou hast purchased of old, which had become His possession by the deliverance from the serfdom of Egypt; the rod of Thine inheritance, the tribe or nation of His possession, which Thou hast redeemed, this statement pointing both backward to the purchase out of Egyptís slavery and forward to the eternal redemption by Jesus Christ; this Mount Zion, His own holy Church of all times, wherein Thou hast dwelt. Note the climax in the terms to denote the relation of God to the people of His covenant. V. 3. Lift up Thy feet, in long and hurried steps, unto the perpetual desolations, the ruins of His spiritual Temple; even all that the enemy hath done wickedly in the Sanctuary, the desecrations of the Old Testament being due principally to idolatry, those of the New Testament consisting in false doctrine and the perversions of the means of grace. V. 4. Thine enemies roar in the midst of Thy congregations, in the place where God revealed Himself in the assembled congregation in His Word; they set up their ensigns for signs, heathen customs and ceremonies taking the place of the forms of Worship instituted or approved by God. That this was done in the Chaldean and the Maccabean periods is a matter of historical fact; that it is being done today is evident to every observer. V. 5. A man was famous according as he had lifted up axes upon the thick trees, or, He, the enemy, shows himself, makes known himself, as one who raises axes on high in the thicket of the woods; v. 6. but now they break down the carved work thereof, the costly and artistic; paneling of the Temple, at once with axes and hammers, in deliberate and ruthless vandalism, exactly as the present-day enemies attempt to desecrate the spiritual temple of the Lord. V. 7. They have cast fire into Thy sanctuary, deliberately burning the house of Jehovah; they have defiled, by casting down, the dwelling-place of Thy name, where the Lord revealed Himself to His people in the Word, to the ground, the profanation of all things holy being the delight of the Lordís enemies always. V. 8. They said in their hearts, Let us destroy them together, bringing the believers into subjection with cruelty and violence; they have burned up all the synagogs of God in the land, all the places of assembly, whether the schools of prophets are here meant or the synagogs proper as they existed after the Exile. V. 9. We see not our signs, the customs of regular worship had been discontinued; there is no more any prophet, this lament containing a true description not only of the last centuries of the pre-Christian era, but also of many other periods of the Churchís life; neither is there among us any that knoweth how long, that is, how long the time of such persecution and tribulation would last. V. 10. O God, how long shall the adversary reproach? sneeringly state that Israel had been forsaken by God. Shall the enemy, by such jeering remarks, blaspheme Thy name, the entire revelation of the power and attributes of Jehovah, forever? V. 11. Why withdrawest Thou Thy hand, even Thy right hand? this being the symbol of Godís almighty power. Pluck it out of Thy bosom, where it seemed that the Lord had hidden it; He should show His might, the psalmist pleads, by sending destruction upon the enemies. V. 12. For God is my King of old, in spite of the gloominess of the present outlook the poet clings to this trust, working salvation in the midst of the earth, that is, throughout the habitable world He makes known and works His redemption. V. 13. Thou didst divide the sea by Thy strength, cleaving the Red Sea asunder for the passage of Israel; Thou brakest the heads of the dragons in the waters, the expression referring to the Egyptian tyrants. V. 14. Thou brakest the heads of leviathan, the crocodile, the most powerful animal of Egypt, in pieces and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness, food for the wilderness dwellers, the wild beasts of the desert consuming the carcasses of the Egyptians after their overthrow in the Red Sea. Thus the monsters mentioned here are emblems of Egypt, whose power was overthrown by the might of Jehovah. V. 15. Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood, in giving the Israelites water out of the rock, Ex. 17, 5; Num. 20, 11; Thou driedst up mighty rivers, the reference being chiefly to the passage of Jordan, Josh. 3, 13. V. 16. The day is Thine, the night also is Thine, He, as the great Sovereign, has fixed the laws governing their course; Thou hast prepared the light and the sun, the light-bodies being His creatures and subject to Him. V. 17. Thou hast set all the borders of the earth, not only by dividing it from the sea, but also by fixing the natural boundaries of nations; Thou hast made summer and winter, the seasons also being His creatures and therefore subject to His command. Thus the absolute, limitless power of God is described, this description serving as a basis of the supplication following. V. 18. Remember this, that the enemy hath reproached, O Lord, and that the foolish people, the enemies gone mad with their rejection of Jehovah, have blasphemed Thy name, v. 10. V. 19. O deliver not the soul of thy turtle-dove, the individual believer and the entire Church being included in this designation on account of the manner in which the dove seeks refuge when danger is near, unto the multitude of the wicked, the band which is so active in planning its destruction. Forget not the congregation of Thy poor, the meek sufferers for the sake of His name, forever. V. 20. Have respect unto the covenant, regarding His promise to uphold the fellowship between Himself and His people; for the dark places of the earth, the eaves and hiding-places of the persecuted believers, are full of the habitations of cruelty, since it happened repeatedly in the history of the Church that the enemies searched out and killed the faithful even in the mountain fastnesses (period of the Maccabees, the Huguenot persecution, etc.). V. 21. O let not the oppressed return ashamed, on account of the Lordís refusal to give him the assistance he craved; let the poor and needy, the afflicted members of His Church, praise Thy name, thanking Him for the deliverance which He was requested to provide. V. 22. Arise, O God, plead Thine own cause, for it was, after all, Jehovahís cause which was in danger on account of the action of the enemies; remember how the foolish man reproacheth Thee daily, Jehovahís own honor thereby being assailed. V. 23. Forget not the voice of Thine enemies, their sneering blasphemies; the tumult of those that rise up against Thee, in open rebellion against His sovereign rule, increaseth continually, rising up threateningly against the throne of the Most High. That is a prayer which is bound to have its effect, when the believers boldly point out to the Lord that it is His own interests in the world which are endangered on account of the attitude of the enemies.