Why standest thou afar off, O Lord? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble? 2 The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined. 3 For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth. 4 The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts. 5 His ways are always grievous; thy judgments are far above out of his sight: as for all his enemies, he puffeth at them. 6 He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity. 7 His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue is mischief and vanity. 8 He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: in the secret places doth he murder the innocent: his eyes are privily set against the poor. 9 He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den: he lieth in wait to catch the poor: he doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net. 10 He croucheth, and humbleth himself, that the poor may fall by his strong ones. 11 He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see it. 12 Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble. 13 Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God? he hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it. 14 Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with thy hand: the poor committeth himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the fatherless. 15 Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: seek out his wickedness till thou find none. 16 The Lord is King for ever and ever: the heathen are perished out of his land. 17 Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear: 18 To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress.
Verse 1. To the tearful eye of the sufferer the Lord seemed to stand still, as if he calmly looked on, and did not sympathize with his afflicted one. Nay, more, the Lord appeared to be afar off, no longer “a very present help in trouble,” but an inaccessible mountain, into which no man would be able to climb. The presence of God is the joy of his people, but any suspicion of his absence is distracting beyond measure. Let us, then, ever remember that the Lord is nigh us. The refiner is never far from the mouth of the furnace when his gold is in the fire, and the Son of God is always walking in the midst of the flames when his holy children are cast into them. Yet he that knows the frailty of man will little wonder that when we are sharply exercised, we find it hard to bear the apparent neglect of the Lord when he forbears to work our deliverance.
Why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble? It is not the trouble, but the hiding of our Father’s face, which cuts us to the quick. When trial and desertion come together, we are in as perilous a plight as Paul, when his ship fell into a place where two seas met (Ac 27:41). It is but little wonder if we are like the vessel which ran aground, and the fore part stuck fast, and remained unmoveable, while the hinder part was broken by the violence of the waves. When our sun is eclipsed, it is dark indeed. If we need an answer to the question, “Why hidest thou thyself?” it is to be found in the fact that there is a “needs be,” not only for trial, but for heaviness of heart under trial ( 1 Peter 1:6 ); but how could this be the case, if the Lord should shine upon us while he is afflicting us? Should the parent comfort his child while he is correcting him, where would be the use of the chastening? A smiling face and a rod are not fit companions. God bares the back that the blow may be felt; for it is only felt affliction which can become blest affliction. If we were carried in the arms of God over every stream, where would be the trial, and where the experience, which trouble is meant to teach us?
Verse 2. The second verse contains the formal indictment against the wicked:
The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor. The accusation divides itself into two distinct charges, — pride and tyranny; the one the root and cause of the other. The second sentence is the humble petition of the oppressed:
Let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined. The prayer is reasonable, just, and natural. Even our enemies themselves being judges, it is but right that men should be done by as they wished to do to others. We only weigh you in your own scales, and measure your corn with your own bushel. Terrible shall be thy day, O persecuting Babylon! when thou shalt be made to drink of the wine cup which thou thyself hast filled to the brim with the blood of saints. There are none who will dispute the justice of God, when he shall hang every Haman on his own gallows, and cast all the enemies of his Daniels into their own den of lions.
Verse 3. The indictment being read, and the petition presented, the evidence is now heard upon the first count. The evidence is very full and conclusive upon the matter of pride, and no jury could hesitate to give a verdict against the prisoner at the bar. Let us, however, hear the witnesses one by one. The first testifies that he is a boaster.
For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire. He is a very silly boaster, for he glories in a mere desire: a very brazen faced boaster, for that desire is villainy; and a most abandoned sinner, to boast of that which is his shame. Bragging sinners are the worst and most contemptible of men, especially when their filthy desires, — too filthy to be carried into act, — become the theme of their boastings. When Mr. Hate Good and Mr. Heady are joined in partnership, they drive a brisk trade in the devil’s wares. This one proof is enough to condemn the prisoner at the bar. Take him away, jailor! But stay, another witness desires to be sworn and heard. This time, the impudence of the proud rebel is even more apparent; for he blesseth the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth. This is insolence, which is pride unmasked. He is haughty enough to differ from the Judge of all the earth, and bless the men whom God hath cursed. So did the sinful generation in the days of Malachi, who called the proud happy, and set up those that worked wickedness ( Malachi 3:15 ). These base pretenders would dispute with their Maker; they would —
“Snatch from his hand the balance and the rod, Rejudge his justice, be the god of God.”
How often have we heard the wicked man speaking in terms of honour of the covetous, the grinder of the poor, and the sharp dealer! Our old proverb hath it, —
“I wot well how the world wags; He is most loved that hath most bags.”
Pride meets covetousness, and compliments it as wise, thrifty, and prudent. We say it with sorrow, there are many professors of religion who esteem a rich man, and flatter him, even though they know that he has fattened himself upon the flesh and blood of the poor. The only sinners who are received as respectable are covetous men. If a man is a fornicator, or a drunkard, we put him out of the church; but who ever read of church discipline against that idolatrous wretch, — the covetous man? Let us tremble, lest we be found to be partakers of this atrocious sin of pride, “blessing the covetous, whom Jehovah abhorreth.”
Verse 4. The proud boastings and lewd blessings of the wicked have been received in evidence against him, and now his own face confirms the accusation, and his empty closet cries aloud against him.
The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God. Proud hearts breed proud looks and stiff knees. It is an admirable arrangement that the heart is often written on the countenance, just as the motion of the wheels of a clock find their record on its face. A brazen face and a broken heart never go together. We are not quite sure that the Athenians were wise when they ordained that men should be tried in the dark lest their countenances should weigh with the judges; for there is much more to be learned from the motions of the muscles of the face than from the words of the lips. Honesty shines in the face, but villainy peeps out at the eyes. See the effect of pride; it kept the man from seeking God. It is hard to pray with a stiff neck and an unbending knee.
God is not in all his thoughts: he thought much, but he had no thoughts for God. Amid heaps of chaff there was not a grain of wheat. The only place where God is not is in the thoughts of the wicked. This is a damning accusation; for where the God of heaven is not, the Lord of hell is reigning and raging; and if God be not in our thoughts, our thoughts will bring us to perdition.
Verse 5. His ways are always grievous. To himself they are hard. Men go a rough road when they go to hell. God has hedged up the way of sin: O what folly to leap these hedges and fall among the thorns! To others, also, his ways cause much sorrow and vexation; but what cares he? He sits like the idol god upon his monstrous car, utterly regardless of the crowds who are crushed as he rolls along.
Thy judgments are far above out of his sight: he looks high, but not high enough. As God is forgotten, so are his judgments. He is not able to comprehend the things of God; a swine may sooner look through a telescope at the stars than this man study the Word of God to understand the righteousness of the Lord.
As for all his enemies, he puffeth at them. He defies and domineers; and when men resist his injurious behaviour, he sneers at them, and threatens to annihilate them with a puff. In most languages there is a word of contempt borrowed from the action of puffing with the lips, and in English we should express the idea by saying, “He cries, Pooh! Pooh! at his enemies.” Ah! there is one enemy who will not thus be puffed at. Death will puff at the candle of his life and blow it out, and the wicked boaster will find it grim work to brag in the tomb.
Verse 6. The testimony of the sixth verse concludes the evidence against the prisoner upon the first charge of pride, and certainly it is conclusive in the highest degree. The present witness has been prying into the secret chambers of the heart, and has come to tell us what he has heard.
He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved: for I shall never be in adversity. O impertinence runs to seed! The man thinks himself immutable, and omnipotent too, for he, he is never to be in adversity. He counts himself a privileged man. He sits alone, and shall see no sorrow. His nest is in the stars, and he dreams not of a hand that shall pluck him thence. But let us remember that this man’s house is built upon the sand, upon a foundation no more substantial than the rolling waves of the sea. He that is too secure is never safe. Boastings are not buttresses, and self confidence is a sorry bulwark. This is the ruin of fools, that when they succeed they become too big, and swell with self conceit, as if their summer would last for ever, and their flowers bloom on eternally. Be humble, O man! for thou art mortal, and thy lot is mutable. The second crime is now to be proved. The fact that the man is proud and arrogant may go a long way to prove that he is vindicative and cruel. Haman’s pride was the father of a cruel design to murder all the Jews. Nebuchadnezzar builds an idol; in pride he commands all men to bow before it; and then cruelly stands ready to heat the furnace seven times hotter for those who will not yield to his imperious will. Every proud thought is twin brother to a cruel thought. He who exalts himself will despise others, and one step further will make him a tyrant.
Verse 7. Let us now hear the witnesses in court. Let the wretch speak for himself, for out of his own mouth he will be condemned.
His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud. There is not only a little evil there, but his mouth is full of it. A three headed serpent hath stowed away its coils and venom within the den of its black mouth. There is cursing which he spits against both God and men, deceit with which he entraps the unwary, and fraud by which, even in his common dealings, he robs his neighbours. Beware of such a man: have no sort of dealing with him: none but the silliest of geese would go to the fox’s sermon, and none but the most foolish will put themselves into the society of knaves. But we must proceed. Let us look under this man’s tongue as well as in his mouth; under his tongue is mischief and vanity. Deep in his throat are the unborn words which shall come forth as mischief and iniquity.
Verse 8. Despite the bragging of this base wretch, it seems that he is as cowardly as he is cruel.
He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: in the secret places doth he murder the innocent: his eyes are privily set against the poor. He acts the part of the highwayman, who springs upon the unsuspecting traveller in some desolate part of the road. There are always bad men lying in wait for the saints. This is a land of robbers and thieves; let us travel well armed, for every bush conceals an enemy. Everywhere there are traps laid for us, and foes thirsting for our blood. There are enemies at our table as well as across the sea. We are never safe, save when the Lord is with us
Verse 9. The picture becomes blacker, for here is the cunning of the lion, and of the huntsman, as well as the stealthiness of the robber. Surely there are some men who come up to the very letter of this description. With watching, perversion, slander, whispering, and false swearing, they ruin the character of the righteous, and murder the innocent; or, with legal quibbles, mortgages, bonds, writs, and the like, they catch the poor, and draw them into a net. Chrysostom was peculiarly severe upon this last phase of cruelty, but assuredly not more so than was richly merited. Take care, brethren, for there are other traps besides these. Hungry lions are crouching in every den, and fowlers spread their nets in every field. Quarles well pictures our danger in those memorable lines, —
“The close pursuers busy hands do plant Snares in thy substance; snares attend thy wants; Snares in thy credit; snares in thy disgrace; Snares in thy high estate; snares in thy base; Snares tuck thy bed; and snares surround thy board; Snares watch thy thoughts; and snares attack thy word;” “Snares in thy quiet; snares in thy commotion; Snares in thy diet; snares in thy devotion; Snares lurk in thy resolves; snares in thy doubt; Snares lie within thy heart; and snares without; Snares are above thy head, and snares beneath; Snares in thy sickness; snares are in thy death.”
“O Lord! keep thy servants, and defend us from all our enemies!”
Verse 10. He croucheth and humbleth himself, that the poor may fall by his strong ones. Seeming humility is often armour bearer to malice. The lion crouches that he may leap with the greater force, and bring down his strong limbs upon his prey. When a wolf was old, and had tasted human blood, the old Saxon cried, “Ware, wolf!” and we may cry, “Ware fox!” They who crouch to our feet are longing to make us fall. Be very careful of fawners; for friendship and flattery are deadly enemies.
Verse 11. As upon the former count, so upon this one; a witness is forthcoming, who has been listening at the keyhole of the heart. Speak up, friend, and let us hear your story. He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see it. This cruel man comforts himself with the idea that God is blind, or, at least, forgetful: a fond and foolish fancy, indeed. Men doubt Omniscience when they persecute the saints. If we had a sense of God’s presence with us, it would be impossible for us to ill treat his children. In fact, there can scarcely be a greater preservation from sin than the constant thought of “Thou, God, seest me.” Thus has the trial proceeded. The case has been fully stated; and now it is but little wonder that the oppressed petitioner lifts up the cry for judgment, which we find in the following verse: —
Verse 12. With what bold language will faith address its God! and yet what unbelief is mingled with our strongest confidence. Fearlessly the Lord is stirred up to arise and lift up his hand, yet timidly he is begged not to forget the humble; as if Jehovah could ever be forgetful of his saints. This verse is the incessant cry of the Church, and she will never refrain therefrom until her Lord shall come in his glory to avenge her of all her adversaries.
Verse 13. In these verses the description of the wicked is condensed, and the evil of his character traced to its source, viz., atheistical ideas with regard to the government of the world. We may at once perceive that this is intended to be another urgent plea with the Lord to show his power, and reveal his justice. When the wicked call God’s righteousness in question, we may well beg him to teach them terrible things in righteousness. In Psalms 10:13 , the hope of the infidel and his heart wishes are laid bare. He despises the Lord, because he will not believe that sin will meet with punishment: he hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it. If there were no hell for other men, there ought to be one for those who question the justice of it.
Verse 14. This vile suggestion receives its answer in Psalms 10:14 .
Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with thy hand. God is all eye to see, and all hand to punish his enemies. From Divine oversight there is no hiding, and from Divine justice there is no fleeing. Wanton mischief shall meet with woeful misery, and those who harbour spite shall inherit sorrow. Verily there is a God which judgeth in the earth. Nor is this the only instance of the presence of God in the world; for while he chastises the oppressor, he befriends the oppressed.
The poor committeth himself unto thee. They give themselves up entirely into the Lord’s hands. Resigning their judgment to his enlightenment, and their wills to his supremacy, they rest assured that he will order all things for the best. Nor does he deceive their hope. He preserves them in times of need, and causes them to rejoice in his goodness. Thou art the helper of the fatherless. God is the parent of all orphans. When the earthly father sleeps beneath the sod, a heavenly Father smiles from above. By some means or other, orphan children are fed, and well they may when they have such a Father.
Verse 15. In this verse we hear again the burden of the psalmist’s prayer:
Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man. Let the sinner lose his power to sin; stop the tyrant, arrest the oppressor, weaken the loins of the mighty, and dash in pieces the terrible. They deny thy justice: let them feel it to the full. Indeed, they shall feel it; for God shall hunt the sinner for ever: so long as there is a grain of sin in him it shall be sought out and punished. It is not a little worthy of note, that very few great persecutors have ever died in their beds: the curse has manifestly pursued them, and their fearful sufferings have made them own that divine justice at which they could at one time launch defiance. God permits tyrants to arise as thorn hedges to protect his church from the intrusion of hypocrites, and that he may teach his backsliding children by them, as Gideon did the men of Succoth with the briers of the wilderness; but he soon cuts up these Herods, like the thorns, and casts them into the fire. Thales, the Milesian, one of the wise men of Greece, being asked what he thought to be the greatest rarity in the world, replied, “To see a tyrant live to be an old man.” See how the Lord breaks, not only the arm, but the neck of proud oppressors! To the men who had neither justice nor mercy for the saints, there shall be rendered justice to the full, but not a grain of mercy.
Verse 16-18. The Psalm ends with a song of thanksgiving to the great and everlasting King, because he has granted the desire of his humble and oppressed people, has defended the fatherless, and punished the heathen who trampled upon his poor and afflicted children. Let us learn that we are sure to speed well, if we carry our complaint to the King of kings. Rights will be vindicated, and wrongs redressed, at his throne. His government neglects not the interests of the needy, nor does it tolerate oppression in the mighty. Great God, we leave ourselves in thine hand; to thee we commit thy church afresh. Arise, O God, and let the man of the earth — the creature of a day — be broken before the majesty of thy power. Come, Lord Jesus, and glorify thy people. Amen and Amen.