There is no inspired title to this psalm, and none is needed, for it records no special event, and needs no other key than that which every Christian may find in his own bosom. It is David’s Heavenly Pastoral; a surpassing ode, which none of the daughters of music can excel. The clarion of war here gives place to the pipe of peace, and he who so lately bewailed the woes of the Shepherd tunefully rehearses the joys of the flock. Sitting under a spreading tree, with his flock around him, like Bunyan’s shepherd boy in the Valley of Humiliation, we picture David singing this unrivalled pastoral with a heart as full of gladness as it could hold; or, if the psalm be the product of his after years, we are sure that his soul returned in contemplation to the lonely water brooks which rippled among the pastures of the wilderness, where in early days she had been wont to dwell. This is the pearl of psalms whose soft and pure radiance delights every eye; a pearl of which Helicon need not be ashamed, though Jordan claims it. Of this delightful song it may be affirmed that its piety and its poetry are equal, its sweetness and its spirituality are unsurpassed.
The position of this psalm is worthy of notice. It follows the twenty-second, which is peculiarly the Psalm of the Cross. There are no green pastures, no still waters on the other side of the twenty-second psalm. It is only after we have read, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” that we come to “The Lord is my Shepherd.” We must by experience know the value of blood shedding, and see the sword awakened against the Shepherd, before we shall be able truly to know the Sweetness of the good Shepherd’s care.
It has been said that what the nightingale is among birds, that is this divine ode among the psalms, for it has sung sweetly in the ear of many a mourner in his night of weeping, and has bidden him hope for a morning of joy. I will venture to compare it also to the lark, which sings as it mounts, and mounts as it sings, until it is out of sight, and even then is not out of hearing. Note the last words of the psalm—”I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever; “these are celestial notes, more fitted for the eternal mansions than for these dwelling places below the clouds. Oh that we may enter into the spirit of the psalm as we read it, and then we shall experience the days of heaven upon the earth!
The Treasury of David.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. The good man has his enemies. He would not be like his Lord if he had not. If we were without enemies we might fear that we were not the friends of God, for the friendship of the world is enmity to God. Yet see the quietude of the godly man in spite of, and in the sight of, his enemies. How refreshing is his calm bravery!
Thou preparest a table before me. When a soldier is in the presence of his enemies, if he eats at all he snatches a hasty meal, and away he hastens to the fight. But observe: “Thou preparest a table, “just as a servant does when she unfolds the damask cloth and displays the ornaments of the feast on an ordinary peaceful occasion. Nothing is hurried, there is no confusion, no disturbance, the enemy is at the door, and yet God prepares a table, and the Christian sits down and eats as if everything were in perfect peace. Oh! the peace which Jehovah gives to his people, even in the midst of the most trying circumstances!
“Let earth be all in arms abroad,
They dwell in perfect peace.”
Thou anointest my head with oil. May we live in the daily enjoyment of this blessing, receiving a fresh anointing for every day’s duties. Every Christian is a priest, but he cannot execute the priestly office without unction, and hence we must go day by day to God the Holy Ghost, that we may have our heads anointed with oil. A priest without oil misses the chief qualification for his office, and the Christian priest lacks his chief fitness for service when he is devoid of new grace from on high.
My cup runneth over. He had not only enough, a cup full, but more than enough, a cup which overflowed. A poor man may say this as well as those in higher circumstances. “What, all this, and Jesus Christ too?” said a poor cottager as she broke a piece of bread and filled a glass with cold water. Whereas a man may be ever so wealthy, but if he be discontented his cup cannot run over; it is cracked and leaks. Content is the philosopher’s stone which turns all it touches into gold; happy is he who has found it. Content is more than a kingdom, it is another word for happiness.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. God doth not at all depend upon wicked men in the benediction of his servant; they concur not with him, neither per modum principii, for he alone is the cause; nor per modum auxilii, for he without them can bless his all: their malicious renitency of spirit, or attempt against God’s blessing of his people, is too impotent to frustrate God’s intention and pleasure. An effectual impediment must not only have contrariety in it, but superiority: a drop of water cannot put out the fire, for though it hath a contrary nature, yet it hath not greater power. Now the malice and contrivances of evil men are too short and weak for the divine intention of blessing, which is accompanied with an almighty arm. Evil men are but men, and God is a God; and being but men, they can do no more than men. The Lord will clear it to all the world, that he rules the earth, and that “his counsel shall stand; “and where he blesseth, that man shall be blessed; and whom he curseth, that man shall be cursed; that the creatures can do neither good not evil; that his people are the generation of his care and love, though living in the midst of deadly enemies. Condensed from Obadiah Sedgwick.
In the presence of mine enemies: they seeing and envying and fretting at it, but not being able to hinder it.—Matthew Poole.
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. In the East the people frequently anoint their visitors with some very fragrant perfume; and give them a cup or glass of some choice wine, which they are careful to fill till it runs over. The first was designed to show their love and respect; the latter to imply that while they remained there, they should have an abundance of everything. To something of this kind the psalmist probably alludes in this passage. Samuel Burder.
Thou anointest my head with oil. Anointing the head with oil is a great refreshment. There are three qualities of oil—laevor, nitor, odor, a smoothness to the touch, brightness to the sight, fragrancy to the smell, and so, gratifying the senses, it must needs cause delight to those anointed with it. To this Solomon alludes when persuading to a cheerful life, he saith, “Let thy head lack no ointment.” How fully doth this represent the Spirit’s unction which alone rejoices and exhilarates the soul! It is called the “oil of gladness”, and the “joy of the Holy Ghost.” Nathanael Hardy.
Thou anointest my head with oil. It is an act of great respect to pour perfumed oil on the head of a distinguished guest; the woman in the gospel thus manifested her respect for the Saviour by pouring “precious ointment” on his head. An English lady went on board an Arabian ship which touched at Trincomalee, for the purpose of seeing the equipment of the vessel, and to make some little purchases. After she had been seated some time in the cabin, an Arabian female came and poured perfumed oil on her head. Joseph Roberts.
Thou anointest my head with oil. In the East no entertainment could be without this, and it served, as elsewhere a bath does, for (bodily) refreshment. Here, however, it is naturally to be understood of the spiritual oil of gladness. T. C. Barth.
Thou anointest my head with oil. Thou hast not confined thy bounty merely to the necessaries of life, but thou hast supplied me also with its luxuries. In “A plain Explanation of Difficult Passages in the Psalms”, 1831.
Thou anointest my head with oil. The unguents of Egypt may preserve our bodies from corruption, ensuring them a long duration in the dreary shades of the sepulchre, but, O Lord, the precious perfumed oil of thy grace which thou dost mysteriously pour upon our souls, purifies them, adorns them, strengthens them, sows in them the germs of immortality, and thus it not only secures them from a transitory corruption, but uplifts them from this house of bondage into eternal blessedness in thy bosom. Jean Baptiste Massillon, 1663-1742.
My cup runneth over. He had not only a fulness of abundance, but of redundance. Those that have this happiness must carry their cup upright, and see that it overflows into their poor brethren’s emptier vessels. John Trapp.
My cup runneth over. Wherefore doth the Lord make you cup run over, but that other men’s lips might taste the liquor? The showers that fall upon the highest mountains, should glide into the lowest valleys. “Give, and it shall be given you”, is a maxim little believed. Luke 6:38. William Secker.
My cup runneth over. Or as it is in the Vulgate: And my inebriating chalice, how excellent it is! With this cup were the martyrs inebriated, when, going forth to their passion, they recognised not those that belonged to them; not their weeping wife, not their children, not their relations; while they gave thanks and said, “I will take the cup of salvation!” Augustine.
The warrior feasted, the priest anointed, the guest satisfied.
(last clause). The means and uses of the continual anointings of the Holy Spirit.
Providential super aboundings, and what is our duty concerning them.
The Treasury of David.
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