By Henry Law
The mind is often sorely tried by seeing the wicked in such great prosperity. Doubts are disposed to rise in reference to God's righteous government. But these doubts soon vanish when His purpose and will are scripturally weighed. An increase of confidence is the happy result.
1. "Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart."
It is sweet happiness to have clear knowledge of the goodness of our God. It should be a frequent prayer that He would make all His goodness pass before us, and that He would proclaim in our hearts His glorious name, especially in the wonders of redemption.
We should, also, mark well our character to see if it be that of the family of His love. They are described as clean of heart. Not only are they clean from all outward stains of evil by the cleansing application of the expiating blood, but they are clean, also, by the mighty indwelling of the Spirit working through the wonders of the Word. "Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken to you."
2-3. "But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked."
From the contemplation of God's goodness the Psalmist turns to confession of his own weakness. His steps had been tottering--not firmly set in the narrow way of life--not boldly climbing Zion's upward hill. He had wavered, he had stumbled, he almost had a grievous fall. But what was the occasion of such inconstancy? He saw the ungodly. Prosperity smiled on their path--their cup of happiness seemed to overflow. The Psalmist was staggered. Such dealings seemed inconsistent with God's righteous government.
4-5. "For there are no bands in their death; but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men."
Examples are given of their untroubled course. To many the bed of sickness is a bed of deep distress. Pains and weakness bring sufferings to the declining frame. From such anguish the wicked are sometimes free. They have lived in ease, in ease they now depart. The common lot of trouble has not been theirs. While other men were emptied from vessel to vessel of affliction, they have reposed on the soft pillow of comfort and of peace.
6-7. "Therefore pride compasses them about as a chain; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes stand out with fatness; they have more than heart could wish."
But is such prosperity in itself a blessing? Unsanctified by the grace of God, it really has the character of curse. Elated by their seeming superabundance, they regard themselves as high above their fellow-men. Pride seems to encompass them; violence is the robe in which they strut. Their very appearance indicates luxurious self-indulgence; and their possessions surpass their utmost desires. Such is the state to which prosperity will sink a graceless heart.
8-10. "They are corrupt, and speak wickedly concerning oppression; they speak loftily. They set their mouth against the heavens; and their tongue walks through the earth. Therefore His people return here; and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them."
There is no check to the workings of their deep-seated corruption. This is evidenced by the proud blasphemy of their words. They openly profess oppression. There are no limits on earth to the outgoings of their presumptuous language. They scale the very heaven of heavens, and madly insult God upon His throne.
11-12. "And they say, How does God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High? Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches."
The Psalmist confesses the evil conclusion which in his weakness he was prone to make. It seemed an easy inference that if God abhorred evil He would not distinguish the wicked by seeming tokens of approval. The increase of their wealth seems an evidence of their being in His favor. But a word is added which unmasks the cheat. They have prosperity indeed, but it is prosperity only in this world. But the world is a vain show. It passes away and the lusts thereof. They in their lifetime "receive their good things."
13-14. "Truly I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning."
We have dreadful warning here that Satan will often urge God's children to form erroneous conclusions. If they listen to his vile suggestions, how erroneously will they view themselves, and God's dealings with the wicked. Aware of the malice and the power of this tempter, let us pray more and more for the enlightening power of the Holy Spirit, and deliverance from the tempter's arts. Without God's light we stumble in dark paths.
15. "If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of Your children."
The faculties of observation and deduction correct erroneous impressions of God's dealings. The Psalmist feels this, and pauses in his wrong conclusions. He feels that to give utterance to such thoughts would be to impinge against all which God's children in their experience had found.
16-17. "When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me. Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end."
But still he found that providential orderings were a mystery with which unaided reason could not grapple. Reason had no torch to illumine the dark passage, but full knowledge was provided. Let God's people study His ordinances and His revealed Word. In them all knowledge is plainly written. Those who are deeply versed in the declarations of the great Book are the wisest among the children of men. In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. To know Him is to know all things. Thus the Psalmist learned the true end of all this seeming prosperity. The path might be strewn with flowers and charms of beauty, but fearful indeed was the abyss to which it led.
18-20. "Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awakes; so, O Lord, when You awake, You shall despise their image."
Their path seemed free from peril, and obviously to lead to joy and gladness. But the ground was slippery--there was no sure safety for the feet. We read, "Their feet shall slide in due time." Then what prop will sustain them--what arm will hold them up? No deliverance is near. Downward, downward they descend, like rolling stones from mountain-heights, until they plunge into destruction's gulf.
No time is granted to amend their ways. Terror utterly consumes them; and their sad beginning reaches an inevitable end. The state of the ungodly is at best but a vain dream. So when God comes forth in just displeasure, He shakes them from their vain imaginations, and shows how contemptible were the images of their sleeping hours.
21-22. "Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my spirit. So foolish was I, and ignorant I was as a beast before You."
The Psalmist, fully alive to the folly of his erroneous conclusions, feels bitter grief. We should indeed be pained when we indulge in thoughts not enlightened by the Word. We should open our eyes widely to our folly, and grant that the very brute creation teach us higher wisdom.
23-24. "Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have held me by my right hand. You shall guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory."
But comfort is not gone. Such folly has not drawn down the chastisement of desertion. The believer still adheres to God, and it is his joy to find that God's right hand is extended to hold him up. He is gladdened by the sweet assurance that grace would be his constant guide; that he would hear the voice, "This is the way," when he would turn to the right hand or to the left; and he knew that when the perils of the way were passed, he would have abundant entrance into the kingdom of heaven. His guide on earth would give him welcome at heaven's gate.
25. "Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside You!"
The believer has Jesus for his portion. Can heaven give him more? He rejoices in his superabundant possessions, and counts all things but loss for this inheritance. He who has Christ indeed has all things. He desires no more; for nothing could enlarge his treasure.
26-27. "My flesh and my heart fails; but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever. For lo, those who are far from You shall perish; You have destroyed all those who go a whoring from You."
Flesh and heart fail in hours of strong temptation; flesh and heart often fail when death draws near. But the failure is not real. God's strength upholds; and eternal bliss is the sure issue. But then the ungodly lie down in woe.
28. "But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all Your works."
It is the highest wisdom to draw near to God. The promise is sure, "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you." Let us put all our trust in our Heavenly Father's love, and devote all our time and our powers to show forth the wonders of His gracious works!