"He rules by His power forever!"—Psalm 66:7
The Power of God is a glorious theme—an anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast, in the season of trial. Perhaps especially, when stooping in parental sorrow over some life passed away, we turn, by instinctive contrast, from the drooping of the floweret or the bending of the tender sapling, to the strength and glory of the Tree of Life.
The Psalm from which these words are taken, is one of the many that were inspired by memories of the Sinai wilderness—the great drama of the Exodus. Our motto-verse is ushered in by the proudest of these memories, "Come and see the works of the Lord…He turned the sea into dry land. They went through the flood on foot; there did we rejoice in Him…He rules by His power forever." Varied are the figures employed by the sacred minstrel in describing the illustrious event. Jehovah had broken the meshes of the enclosing net (ver. 11). From the fire of Egypt's brick-kilns He had rescued them (ver. 2). Through the furnace they had emerged purified (ver. 10). Through the raging flood of the Red Sea He had conducted them (ver. 6). They had only to "stand still and see the salvation of God" (vers. 5 and 12). "For You, O God, have proved us—You have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; You laid affliction upon our loins. You have caused men to ride over our heads—we went through fire and through water; but YOU brought us out into a wealthy place" (vers. 10-12).
An emancipation effected from Egypt—the territory of the greatest and proudest of the old-world dynasties—an enslaved people, in the might of their God, rising in a night, breaking their chains, leaving every memento of bondage and degradation behind them; and after a miraculous march of forty years, at last entering triumphantly the promised land! All this could not have been accomplished without the cognisance of the surrounding nations. Hence the Psalmist, remembering these glorious "works of the Lord and His wonders of old," breaks out into a lofty appeal to the kingdoms of his own age to recognize the hand of Israel's Jehovah. (Ver. 1), "Make a joyful noise unto God, all you lands—sing forth the honor of His name; make His praise glorious. Say unto God, How terrible are You in Your works! through the greatness of Your power shall Your enemies submit themselves unto You…He rules by His power forever!"
What a glorious rock-shadow in which to take shelter! What an unspeakably comforting assurance, whether to nations or to individuals, that the same mighty hand which shattered the chains of the Hebrew slaves, and smote the tongue of the Egyptian sea, may be recognized in every event which befalls His people—every public calamity, every domestic heart-sorrow. Whether it be the bondage and deliverance of a nation, or the preparing and withering of a family gourd, we can write above all, "He rules by His power forever!" Whether He smites or heals, darkens or gladdens, gives or takes away, it is ours to say, in the words of this inspiring hymn (vers. 8, 9), "Oh, bless our God, you people, and make the voice of His praise to be heard—who holds our soul in life." Life is His. He kindles the spark, and, when He sees fit, He quenches it. Death is but the revocation of His own grant, the lapsing of the lease into the hands of life's great Proprietor. "He turns man to destruction, and says, Return, O children of men."
The Psalm is supposed by some to have been specially composed by David on the occasion of that great festival at the end of his reign, when, after having collected material for his projected Temple on Mount Moriah, "all Israel" assembled, at the summons of their aged king, and in response to his appeal "consecrated their service unto the Lord." What could be more natural than for the minstrel monarch, at such a time, to revert in the first instance to God's wonderful transactions with them as a nation ever since the hour of the Exodus; and then to pass to a personal retrospect of His dealings with himself throughout his chequered history, from the morning of his life in the valleys of Bethlehem until now, when the sun was westering and the shadows were falling? He too had to tell of varied sorrows. He too had to tell of 'early graves,' yes, and of sadder than early graves. He too had been "tried as silver is tried;" "brought through fire and through water," and had "affliction laid upon his loins."
But even in the mingled retrospect, in which all these figures of speech met—the furnace, the net, the fire, the flood, the sackclothed loins—he could see mercy—rich, undeserved mercy, mingling with and tempering judgment. The dark clouds of his stormy life-career were alternated with glorious sunshine—the dreary spots of the wilderness were far outnumbered by the green. Sheltering palm trees stood conspicuous amid stretches of barren sand. And remembering how graciously God had heard his prayers in the past, supported him in trouble, and made his earthly trials conspire for the good of his soul, we can understand how appropriately he records his votive resolve in ver. 13, "I will go into Your house with burnt-offerings; I will pay You my vows which my lips have uttered and my mouth has spoken when I was in trouble. I will offer unto You burnt sacrifices of fatlings, with the incense of rams; I will offer bullocks with goats. Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will declare what He has done for my soul." He gives to God all the glory of his past deliverances and triumphs. He takes none to himself. "Sing forth," he says, "the honor of His name—who does not allow our feet to be moved."
The Psalm and its many devout and instructive sentiments was designed for the Church of God and believers in every age. Its lessons are not local but universal. The safe and triumphant passage of Israel through the Red Sea and the Jordan of old, are pledges of covenant mercy to His people in all times and in all seasons of affliction. Through every sea of sorrow and trouble He makes a passage for them; gives songs in the night, takes off their sackcloth, and girds them with gladness. It is a striking assertion, which we have before alluded to in a previous meditation, but which we may once more note in its place in the triumphant Hymn where it occurs—"They went through the flood on foot"—(the place where we might have expected nothing but trembling and terror, anguish and dismay)—"there," says the Psalmist, "did we rejoice in Him."
How many there are who can endorse this as their experience, that "there," in their very seasons of distress and sadness, they have been enabled, as they never did before, to triumph and rejoice! How near their God in covenant is brought! how brightly shine His promises! In the day of their prosperity they cannot see the brilliancy of these. Like Jacob at Jabbok, it is when their earthly sun goes down that the Divine Angel comes forth, and they wrestle with Him and prevail. It was at night, "in the evening," Aaron lit the sanctuary lamps. It is in the night of trouble the brightest lamps of the believer are often kindled.
It was in his loneliness and exile, that John had the glorious vision of his Redeemer. There is many a Patmos still in the world, whose brightest remembrances are those of God's presence and upholding grace and love, in solitude and sadness. How many pilgrims, still passing through these Red Seas and Jordans of earthly affliction, will be enabled in the retrospect of eternity to say—full of the memories of God's great goodness—"THERE"—in those dark experiences, with the surging waves on every side, deep calling to deep, Jordan, as when Israel crossed it, in 'the time of overflowing' (flood)—yet "THERE did we rejoice in Him!"
It was when the disciples were in their hour of extremity, during the storm on Gennesaret, giving themselves up to the hopelessness of despair, that, "in the fourth watch of the night," when darkness was deepest and danger greatest, the great Deliverer appeared on the crested wave—"Jesus came unto them, walking on the sea!" It was, as we have already seen, when the bereft of Bethany had, as they imagined, consigned the fond treasure of their affections to everlasting silence; and, as they were sitting in the pillaged home, wondering at the mysterious delay on the part of the One Being who could alone have arrested that winged arrow which had laid low the love of their hearts—at that crisis-hour the great Conqueror of death appeared, to revive the smouldering ashes of their faith, and reanimate the joy and prop of their existence! "Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence!"
And even when He does not appear visibly to support; when some treasured comfort is withdrawn; or when deliverance from some threatened earthly trial or threatened evil is not given; when cradles are emptied and youthful voices silenced, it is in order that we may the more surely find our only and all-sufficient Portion in HIM. The shelter of the canvas tent is removed. But it only the more endears to us the shadow of the Great Rock. Observe the difference between the failing of the world's consolations and refuges and joys, and those of the true Christian—When the worldly man mourns his dried-up brooks, or his stripped and dismantled tents, he has lost his all—he has nowhere else to turn; there is nothing left him but the waterless channel—the dreary outlook of blighted desert—the tear of despair—the broken heart—the grave! In the case of the believer, when one blessing is withdrawn, his God has other spiritual comforts for him in reversion. He may have too good cause to appropriate the words, as descriptive of his domestic joys—"And it came to pass, after a while, that the brook dried up" (1 Kings 17:7); "Suddenly are my tents spoiled, and my curtains in a moment" (Jer. 4:20). But "happy is the man who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God."
"Sing forth," then, to revert to the exhortation of the writer of this psalm, "the honor of His name, and make His praise glorious." There are, we repeat, seasons, those whose eyes fall on these pages only know too well, when we cannot tune this harp of broken strings—when the summons of the 5th verse is more appropriately ours, "Come, and see the works of God—He is dreadful in His doing towards the children of men;" when we have to say unto Him, "How dreadful are You in Your works!" But while justice and judgment are the habitation of His throne, mercy and truth go continually before His face. While "God has spoken once, yes, twice have I heard this, that POWER belongs unto God; also unto You, O Lord, belongs MERCY." "We went through fire and through water, but You brought us out into a wealthy place!"
Occupying now the glorious place of security, which can alone be found in Christ and His finished salvation, let us commit the keeping of our souls, and of all near and dear to us, to Him for the future in well-doing; knowing that there will be no floods or fires sent but what He appoints; and, if sent, let us seek to be able to say, "Your will be done!" That so we may come at last to stand without fault before the throne, with every flood passed, every fire quenched, every tear dried. With room found for all whom death has severed from us in that "wealthy place" above; and confident then, at least, that the Divine dispensations and dealings were for our good, we shall be able to utter the invitation of this inspired minstrel, at the close of his song—"Come, and hear, all you who fear God, and I will declare what He has done for my soul."