George Horne.

A commentary on the book of Psalms (Volume 2) online

. (page 14 of 24)
Online LibraryGeorge HorneA commentary on the book of Psalms (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

could, and they desired much more. This was their
Sacrament, and this was their manner of receiving
it. And if that water was a type of our Sacrament,
or a Sacrament of the same secret blessing, then is
their thirst a signification of our duty.*

" 17. And they sinned yet more against him,
by provoking the Most High in the wilderness,

• Worthy Communicant, p. 92.

Ps. 78.]


18. And they tempted God in their hearts, by ask-
ing meat for their lust. 19. Yea, they spake
against God: they said, can God furnish a table in
the wilderness ? 20. Behold, he smote the rock,
that the waters gushed out, and the streams over-
flowed ; can he give bread also, or provide flesh for
his people?"

These frequent rebellions of Israel with the pre-
sence of God in the midst of them, and his miracles
before their eyes, would seem incredible, had they
been related any where but in the oracles of truth;
and did not the heart of every self-knowing Chris-
tian at once acknowledge the picture which is here
drawn of human nature, its incredulity and perverse-
ness. For hath not God delivered us from the
house of bondage, and supported us in the wilder-
ness: is not Jesus present in the church, and are
not his miracles of love and mercy continually before
our eyes, in the Word and in the Sacrament? Yet,
who does not still " provoke" and " tempt the most
High ;" who does not ask provision for his " lust,"
when his necessities are satisfied: and who, after all
the proofs he has had of God's power and goodness,
is not apt, upon every appearance of danger, to be
diffident, and distrustful of his providence? Before
we condemn others, let us try ourselves, and judge
righteous judgment. When David pronounced the
words, " The man that hath done this thing shall
surely die," little did he think of being told by his
faithful monitor, " Thou art the man." Conscience,
if duly interrogated, will be a Nathan to every one,
and show him his own transgressions, in those of
old Israel.


214 [Ps. 78.

"21. Therefore the Lord heard this, and was
wroth, so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and an-
ger also came up against Israel; 22. Because they
believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation.
23. Though he had commanded the clouds from
above, and opened the doors of heaven. 24. And
had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had
given them of the corn of heaven. 25. Man did
eat angels' food: he sent them meat to the full."

The discontents, mentioned above, in verse 17,
&c. were posterior not only to the miracle at the
rock, but also to the gift of " manna," which, after
some little time, the people " loathed," and de-
manded " flesh," repenting that they had forsaken
Egypt, where they fared more to theii* satisfaction.
See Numb. xi. The cause of the discontents was
infidelity, and the effect of them a display of God's
indignation; " The Lord was wroth — because they
believed not," &c. Now, as St. Paul styles the
water, " spiritual," or, " sacramental drink," pro-
ceeding from a " spiritual rock, which rock w^as
Christ;" so he terms the manna, " spiritual," or
^' sacramental meat; they did all eat of the same
spiritual meat." 1 Cor. x. 3. And our Lord, in
John vi. discourses at large upon the subject, to
convince the Jews, that God, ^h^. gave to . their
fathers manna in the wilderness, had in HIM given
them " true bread" of eternal life, w^hich thejiianna
was intended to represent. " I am the living^ bread
which came down from heaven: if any man eat of
this bread he shall live for ever; and the bread that
I will give, is my flesh, which I will give for the life

Ps. 78.] 215

of the world." Christ crucified is the support of
spiritual and eternal life; faith is the mouth by
which this support is received; manna was an out-
ward and visible sign of it to the Israelites in the
wilderness ; the eucharistic bread is such to Chris-
tians in the world. When that holy ordinance is
celebrated, " the doors of heaven are opened," spi-
ritual food is given from above, and man eats C3'»^''1K
on^, the bread of the " mighty ones;" whether by
"mighty ones" we understand those who eat the bread,
and are invigorated thereby ; or the blessed persons
who give the bread to man. Such is our manna, our
sustenance in the wilderness, our viaticum, while on
the road to Canaan. But how is it '' loathed," and
despised, in comparison with " the flesh pots of
Egypt," by men who ''believe not in God, and trust
not in his salvation !" Will not the same cause pro-
duce the same effect? Will not Jehovah hear this,
and be wroth? Will not *' a fire be kindled against
Jacob, and anger also come up against Israel !" " For
this cause," saith an apostle to the irreverent Corin-
thian receivers, " many are weak and sickly among
you, and many sleep." 1 Cor. xi. 30.

" 26. He caused an east wind to blow in the
heaven ; and by his power he brought in the south
wind. 27. He rained flesh also upon them as dust,
and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea. 28.
And he let it fall in the midst of their camp, round
about their habitations. 29. So they did eat, and
were well filled : for he gave them their own desire.
30. They were not estranged from their lust: but
while the meat was yet in their mouths, 31. The

216 [Ps. 78.

wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest
of them, and smote down the chosen me7i of Israel."

The people, discontented with manna, asked in a
tumultuous and rebellious way, for flesh, at the
same time distrusting the power of God to give it
them in the wilderness. Flesh, however, was pro-
cured. A wind, proper for the occasion, went
forth from Jehovah, and brought a cloud of quails,
which furnished the whole camp with a most delici-
ous kind of flesh food, for the space of an entire
month. But from the event we learn, that inordi-
nate desires, though sometimes complied with, and
satisfied by heaven, do not therefore go unpunished;
on the contrary, they are often punished by being
complied with. The blessings chosen for us by
God, are blessings indeed, and, like the manna,
bring no sorrow with them: but when w^e choose for
ourselves, and are so unhappy as to be gratified in
that choice, our portion too often proves a curse;
and while the much-loved morsel is yet between our
teeth, " the wrath of God comes upon us," for mak-
ing a wrong choice. This will always be the case
in the end, whenever earth is preferred to heaven,
and sense to faith.

" 32. For all this they sinned still: and believed
not for his wondrous works. 33. Therefore their
days did he consume in vanity, and their years in

Mercies are followed by provocations; provoca-
tions are punished with judgments; to judgments
succeed repeated provocations, which call down fresh

Ps. 78.1 217

judgments. Immediately after the history of the
quails, we read of a sedition stirred up by Aaron and
Miriam, and of new murmurs at the report brought
by the spies, concerning the promised land; in con-
sequence of which last, the nation had been destroy-
ed, but for the intercession of Moses; and the whole
generation of those who came out of Egypt, except
Joshua and Caleb, actually fell in the wilderness,
wasted and consumed by various plagues and calami-
ties, during a forty years' peregrination. — See
Numb, xii, xiii, xiv. St. Jude makes mention of
such a generation in the early days of the Christian
church, speakers of " hard speeches against Christ,
murmurers, complainers, walking after their own
lusts; and he therefore puts converts " in remem-
brance, how that the Lord, having saved the peo-
ple out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed
them that believed not.'* Jude verse 5, and 15.
Because, notwithstanding all that Jesus has done,
and continues to do for the church, men " sin yet
more, and believe not for his wondrous works," but
either despise the heavenly country, or despair of
obtaining it, therefore is the hand of God heavy
upon the world; " vanity and trouble" wear out the
life of man; and they who have passed the waters
of baptism, fall short of the promised rest.

" 34. When he slew them, then they sought
him: and they returned, and inquired early after
God. 35. And they remembered that God was
their rock, and the High God their Redeemer.
36. Nevertheless they did flatter him with their
mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues.

218 [Ps.78.

37. For their heart was not right with him, neither
were they steadfast in his covenant."

Several instances of this behaviour occur in the
history of Korah's rebeUion and punishment, of the
fiery serpents, and of Israel and Moab. — See Numb,
xvi, XX, xxi, XXV. The Israelites, in this particular,
resembled their great persecutor Pharaoh ; their
repentance, which came with the divine judgments,
went also away with them, and appeared no more.
By night the dew falleth from heaven, and refresheth
the weary ground, and causeth the green herb and
the flower of the field to revive and spring; but in the
morning, the sun ariseth with a burning heat, and
presently the dew is evaporated, the grass withereth,
the flower fadeth, and the ground again becometh
parched and dry as before. Thus it is with man.
Adversity is the night, and grace is the dew, by
which his heart is made tender and religious, and
good resolutions are formed, and begin to shoot: but
returning prosperity has the force and effect of a
summer sun; at its presence piety vanisheth, resolu-
tions come to nothing, and the heart is once more
hardened. " O Ephraim," exclaims Jehovah by his
prophet, " what shall I do unto thee ? O Judah,
what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a
morning cloud, and as the early dew it passes away:"
Hos. vi. 4. Who, that hath been conversant in
the house of mourning, and about the bed of sickness,
but must have seen frequent instances of a temporary
and deceitful repentance ? Whose heart doth not
reproach him with some of these backslidings of
Israel? In the day, therefore, of health and strength

Ps. 78.] 219

and prosperity, before the indignation of heaven
break forth, and the right aiming thunderbolts fly
abroad, from a motive of love, not of fear, let us
" seek early after God, and return from our sins,
remembering the rock of our salvation, and the high
God our Redeemer." Thus may we entertain some
hope, that our conversion is sincere; that we do
not " flatter, and lie" unto our Maker; that our
" heart is right with him," and we shall continue
'' steadfast in his covenant." And then, a plant that
is set and lives in the heat of the day, how will it
thrive, and flourish, under the cool and moist influ-
ences of night?

" 38. But he being full of compassion, forgave
their iniquity, and destroyed them not; yea, many
a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir
up all his wrath. 39. For he remembereth that
they ^joere but flesh : a wind, or, breath, that pas-
seth away, and cometh not again."

Had God " stirred up all his wrath," the Israel-
ites must have been exterminated in the wilderness.
But then, the promises made to Abraham, of mercy
and " compassion" to them, and by them to all man-
kind, had failed. Therefore they were " forgiven,"
and not " destroyed:" judgment was executed, from
time to time, upon the person of offenders; but still
a remnant was left; the nation subsisted, until the
Seed came to whom the promise was made. Nay,
although, in consequence of their last and greatest
crime, their polity was subverted with their city
and temple, the race is yet marvellously preserved;
and, we trust, preserved for mercy to be shown them

^20 [Ps. 78.

in the last days. Be not angry, O Lord Jesus, for
ever, with them, or with us, but remember of what
materials we are made, and into what a state we
are fallen; how weak and how frail we are; how
liable to be seduced into sin, and blinded by
error: remember this, O Lord, and forgive us; and
teach us to remember it, that we may forgive one

" 40. How oft did they provoke him in the wilder-
ness, and grieve him in the desert? 4L Yea, they
turned back, and tempted God, and limited the
Holy One of Israel. 42. They remembered not
his hand, nor the day when he delivered them
from the hand of the enemy : 43. How he had
wrought his signs in Egypt, and his wonders in the
field of Zoan."

The question which the Psalmist here asks, con-
cerning Israel in the wilderness, is elsewhere asked
by him, concerning mankind in general : " Who
can tell how oft he offendeth ?'* Psal. xix. 12. God
informs Moses, who had interceded for the people,
and, in the name of the great Mediator obtained
their pardon, that " those men which had seen
his glory, and his miracles which he did in Egypt
and in the wilderness, had tempted him ten times,
and had not hearkened to his voice." Numb. xiv.
22. Forgetfulness of the mercies of redemption is
the beginning of sin; and though every one knows
how to resent and detest the crime of ingratitude
in another, he yet thinks that his best benefactor
will overlook the most flagrant instances of it in

Ps. 78.] 221

" 44. And had turned their rivers into blood; and
their floods, that they could not drink. 45. He sent
divers sorts of flies, Heb. a mixture, Ksohether of
beasts, or insects^ noisome and destructive, among
them, which devoured them; and frogs, which
destroyed them. 46. He gave also their increase
unto the caterpillar, and their labour unto the lo-
cust. 47. He destroyed their vines with hail, and
their sycamore trees with frost. 48. He gave up
their cattle also to the hail, and their flocks to hot
thunderbolts, or, flashes of lightning."

The Psalm goes back to the subject of Israelitish
ingratitude, mentioned at the beginning, verse H,
12. in order to introduce an account of the miracles
wrought in Egypt, previous to the exodus. These
miracles were intended to evince the superiority of
Jehovah over the elements and powers of nature,
which at that time were objects of worship amongst
the Egyptians, but plainly appeared to act at the
command of Moses, in subordination to their great
Creator, the God of the Hebrews. In the heavens,
on the earth, and in the waters, supremacy and
independency were demonstrated to belong to him
only: fire and air, thunder and lightning, wind,
rain, and hail obeyed his word : rivers became
blood, and their inhabitants perished; insects and
animals left their wonted habitations, to destroy
vegetables, or torment man: so that wherever the
gods of Egypt were supposed to reside, and to
exert their influences in favour of their votaries, in
all places, and all circumstances, victory declared
for Jehovah. Hence modern as well as ancient

22^ [Ps. 78.

idolaters may learn not to put their trust in the
world, but in him who made, and who can and will
destroy it; whose power can render the most insig-
nificant of his creatures, instruments of his vengeance,
and in a moment, arm all the elements against
sinners; and whose mercy will employ that power in
the final salvation of the church; when, as the author
of the book of Wisdom expresseth it, " He shall
make the creature his weapon for the revenge
of his enemies, and the world shall fight for him
against the unwise." — Wisd. v. 17, 20. The curi-
ous and striking reflections which that author makes
on the plagues of Egypt, in chap, xi, xvii, xviii,
xix. are well worthy of an attentive perusal. It is
also to be observed, that St. John describes the
judgments of the last days in terras plainly alluding
to those poured out upon the Egyptians, as " locusts
and frogs; blood and darkness," &c. See Rev. ix.
and xvi. et al. Under these images are represented
false teachers and erroneous doctrines, carnality
and ignorance, and, in a word, whatever contributes
to ravage the moral or spiritual world, to deface
the beauty of holiness, and destroy the fruits of
faith. And of all the divine judgments, these are
by far the most dreadful, though generally the least

" 49. He cast upon them the fierceness of his
anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by
sending evil angels among them*^

Some of the Egyptian plagues having been speci-
fied in the foregoing verses, others of them are here
thrown together, and the whole scene is affirmed

Ps. 78.] 223

to have been a full display of wrath and vengeance
executed upon the oppressors of the church by Cdti
Ci^NbD, " evil angels, agents or messengers;"
whether by this expression we understand the mate-
rial instruments of divine displeasure ; or angels cm-
ployed as ministers of vengeance; or the actual appear-
ance and ministration of evil spirits, suffered to torment
the wicked in this world, as they certainly will do
in the next. Tradition seems to have favoured this
last opinion, since the author of the book of Wisdom,
above referred to, describes the Egyptian darkness
as a kind of temporary hell, in which there appeared
to the wicked, whose consciences suggested to them
every thing that was horrible, " a fire kindled of it-
self, very dreadful; they were scared with beasts that
passed by, and hissing of serpents; and they were
vexed with monstrous apparitions, so that they faint-
ed, and died for fear; while over them was spread a
heavy night, and image of that darkness which
should afterwards receive them." Wisd. xvii.

" 50. He made a way to his anger, he spared
noj; their soul from death, but gave their life over to
the pestilence; 51. And smote all the first-born in
Egypt; the chief of z^/z^/r strength in the tabernacles
of Ham:"

The last plague was the death of the first-born,
both of man and beast; Exod. xii. 29. when God,
having removed every obstacle that mercy had
thrown in the path of justice, " made a way to his
indignation," which then rushed forth like a fiery
stream. An unlimited commission was given to the
destroyer, who at midnight passed through the

224 [Ps. 78.

land, and gave the fatal stroke in every house. —
" While all things, O Lord, were in quiet silence,
and that night was in the midst of her swift course,
thine Almighty Word leapt down from heaven out
of thy royal throne, as a fierce man of war into the
midst of a land of destruction, and brought thine
unfeigned commandment as a sharp sword, and stand-
ing up, filled all things with death: and it touched
the heaven, but it stood upon the earth :" Wisd.
xviii. 14. Pharaoh and all his servants rose up in
the night ; there was a great cry throughout all the
land of Egypt ; and universal consternation reigned,
inferior only to that which is to extend its empire
over the world, when the " trumpet shall sound,
and the dead shall be raised." May we be saved,
like Israel, in that hour, through the blood of the
true paschal Lamb, slain to take away the sins of
the world. " When I see the blood," says Jeho-
vah to his people, " I will pass over you."

" 52. But made his own people to go forth like
sheep: and guided them in the wilderness, like a
flock; 53. And he led them on safely, so that they
feared not; but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
54. And he brought them to the border of his sanc-
tuary, even to this mountain, "isohicli his right hand
had purchased. 55. He cast out the heathen also
before them ; and divided them an inheritance by
line : and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their

Having related the punishments inflicted on
Egypt, the Psalmist returns to those mercies expe-
rienced by the Israelites, when God overthrew their

Ps. 78.] 225

enemies, took them under his protection, fed and
conducted them in the wilderness, brought them
to the promised land, expelled the heathen, settled
his people, and at length fixed his residence on
mount Sion, which is represented as the conquest
and acquisition of his own arm; since the victories
of Joshua, &c. were all owing to the divine presence
and assistance. The Christian church, after her
redemption by " the blood of the Lamb, passed 300
years in a state of minority, as it were, and under
persecution, which, with allusion to what befel Is-
rael of old, is called in the Revelation, her flight
and abode in the wilderness: Rev. xii. 6. At
length the true " Joshua," or Jesus, " brought"
her " into the possession of the Gentiles;" see
Acts vii. 45. and she enjoyed a temporary rest and
prosperity. But no terrestrial Canaan, no secular
advantages, should make us forget, as the Jews did,
and as Christians are apt to do, that the church is
in the wilderness, while she is in the world; and
that " there remaineth yet" another and far more
glorious " rest for the people of God," after which
they ought ever to be aspiring. See Heb. iv. 9.

" 56. Yet they tempted and provoked the most
high God, and kept not his testimonies : 57. But
turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers :
they were turned aside like a deceitful bow. 58. For
they provoked him to anger with their high places,
and moved him to jealousy with their graven ima-

The Israelites, when settled in the promised land,
soon showed themselves to be the genuine descendants


[Ps. 78.

of those men, who tempted God in the desert. We
can hardly read two chapters in the book of Judges,
but we meet with the words, " And the children of
Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord." For
this their frequent revolting, they are compared to
" a deceitful bow," which, when put to the trial, is
sure to disappoint the archer, either dropping the
arrow at his feet, or carrying it wide of the mark.
Their zeal and love were either wholly relaxed and
enervated by sensuality and indolence, or else turned
aside, and misplaced on false objects of worship.
Thus, in the present decline of religion, the devo-
tion of the Romanists hath attached itself to saints,
angels and images; while that of Protestants sleep-
eth, and must be awakened. In what manner is
known to God only.

" 59. When God heard this^ he was wroth, and
greatly abhorred Israel: 60. So that he forsook
the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent "isohich he placed
among men: 61. And delivered his strength into
captivity, and his glory into the enemies' hand.

Rebellion against God will, sooner or later, draw
down his vengeance, and cause tlie most beloved na-
tion to be " abhorred" by him : he will forsake the
place of his residence, " the tent placed among men,"
where he dwelleth by his Spirit ; and the church, by
which his " strength," and his " glory" are mani-
fested to the world, shall go " into captivity, and
the enemies' hand." All this we are taught by that
which came to pass in Israel, when, for the sins of
priests and people, the ark of God, which then
abode in Shiloh, was suffered to fall into the hands

Ps. 7S.] 227

of the Philistines : 1 Sam. iv. The present state
of Jerusalem, and of all tlie once flourishinir East-
ern and African churches, speaks aloud the same
awful and concerning truth. " He that hath ears
to hear, let him hear."

" 62. He gave his people over also unto the
sword: and was wroth with his inheritance. 63.
The fire consumed their young men: and their
maidens were not given to marriage. 64. Their
priests fell by the sword: and their widows made no

These verses refer to the slaughter of Israel by
the Philistines, which was an effect of divine wrath,
compared here, as elsewhere, to " a consuming fire;"
they refer likewise to the death of old Eli, of Hoph-
ni and Phinehas, and the widow of Phinehas, who
expired in childbed, on hearing the mournful news :
1 Sam. iv. History abounds with the tragical
stories of wars and captivities: Scripture informs us,
they are the judgments of God against sin : but
calamities affect us not, till they become our own:
it is well if they reform us, even when they do be-
come so.

" 65. Then the Lord awaked, as one out of
sleep, a7id like a mighty man, that shouteth, by
reason of wine." *

While, by God's permission, the Philistines were
chastising his people for their sins, he held his peace,
and seemed unconcerned as one asleep. But when
due chastisement had brought the delinquents to
themselves, the cries of penitent Israel awakened,

228 [Ps. 78.

as it were, and called forth the zeal of the Lord of
hosts, to vindicate his honour, and to deliver his
servants : and then, the vigour of his operations was
such, as might be compared to the alacrity and cour-
age of a mighty champion, when, refreshed and in-
spirited by wine, he attacks his adversaries, and
bears down all before him. Under all our suffer-
ings, let us rest contented with this assurance, that
God acts the part of a father; and will therefore re-

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryGeorge HorneA commentary on the book of Psalms (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 24)