A psalm. A song. For the Sabbath day.
Isaac Watts based his hymn ‘Sweet is the work, my God, my King’ on this psalm.
1 It is good to praise the LORD
and make music to your name, O Most High,
2 to proclaim your love in the morning
and your faithfulness at night,
3 to the music of the ten-stringed lyre
and the melody of the harp.
While recognising the place of music and musical instruments in the praise of God (at least in private), Spurgeon warns: ‘It is, however, much to be feared that attention to the mere mechanism of music, noting keys and strings, bars and crotchets, has carried many away from the spiritual harmony which is the soul and essence of praise. Fine music without devotion is but a splendid garment upon a corpse.’
4 For you make me glad by your deeds, O LORD;
I sing for joy at the works of your hands.
5 How great are your works, O LORD,
how profound your thoughts!
6 The senseless man does not know,
fools do not understand,
7 that though the wicked spring up like grass
and all evildoers flourish,
they will be forever destroyed.
8 But you, O LORD, are exalted forever.
9 For surely your enemies, O LORD,
surely your enemies will perish;
all evildoers will be scattered.
10 You have exalted my horn
like that of a wild ox;
fine oils have been poured upon me.
11 My eyes have seen the defeat of my adversaries;
my ears have heard the rout of my wicked foes.
12 The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
13 planted in the house of the LORD,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green,
15 proclaiming, “The LORD is upright;
he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”
This section is strongly reminiscent of Psalm 1.
Palm tree…cedar – ‘The palm tree is the embodiment of graceful erectness; the cedar, of strength and majesty.’ (Kidner)
The growth of these two fine trees may not be as rapid as that of the grass, v5, but it will endure and be fruitful. Spurgeon: ‘When we see a noble palm standing erect, sending all its strength upward in one bold column, and growing amid the dearth and drought of the desert, we have a fine picture of the godly man, who in his uprightness aims alone at the glory of God; and, independent of outward circumstances, is made by divine grace to live and thrive where all things else perish.’
‘Where God gives true grace he will give more grace. God’s trees shall grow higher, like the cedars, the tall cedars in Lebanon; they shall grow nearer heaven, and with a holy ambition shall aspire towards the upper world; they shall grow stronger, like the cedars, and fitter for use.’ (MHC)
Planted in the house of the Lord…flourish in the courts of our God – ‘The idea is that the righteous flourish because they stay near the presence of God.’ (Longman)
‘Those who by grace are brought into communion with the Lord, shall be likened to trees planted in the Lord’s house, and shall find it good to their souls. No heart has so much joy as that which abides in the Lord Jesus. Fellowship with the stem begets fertility in the branches. If a man abide in Christ he brings forth much fruit.’ (Spurgeon)
They will still bear fruit in old age – Old age may bring its physical and mental limitations, but also offers rich memories and mature wisdom, as with Moses, Deut 34:7. (Kidner)
”Consider the oppositions that lie against the flourishing of believers in old age, the difficulties of it, the temptations that must be conquered, the acting of the mind above its natural abilities which are decayed, the weariness that is apt to befall us in a long spiritual conflict, the cries of the flesh to be spared, and we shall see it to be an evidence of the faithfulness, power, and righteousness of God in covenant; nothing else could produce this mighty effect.’ (John Owen)
‘The products of sanctification, all the instances of a lively devotion and a useful conversation, good works, by which God is glorified and others are edified, these are the fruits of righteousness, in which it is the privilege, as well as the duty, of the righteous to abound.’ (MHC)
‘Other trees, when they are old, leave off bearing, but in God’s trees the strength of grace does not fail with the strength of nature. The last days of the saints are sometimes their best days, and their last work is their best work. This indeed shows that they are upright; perseverance is the surest evidence of sincerity.’ (MHC)
‘A tree that is carefully planted and cultivated may be expected to live long, and to bear fruit even when it is old. It is true that such a tree may be cut down; or that it may be blown down by winds and tempests; or that it may be unproductive, but as a general rule, and as laying the foundation of a reasonable hope, such a tree may be expected to live long, and to produce fruit even when it is old. So of one devoted early to God, and trained up under the influences of religion. The care, the culture, the habits of temperance, of industry, of moderation, and of sobriety so formed, are favourable to length of days, and lay the foundation for usefulness when old age comes. An aged man should be useful. He should feel that whatever wisdom he may possess as the result of long study and experience, belongs to God and to truth; that one great reason for sparing him is that he may be useful; that the world needs the benefit of his counsel and his prayers; that his life is lengthened out not for his own ease or enjoyment, but that virtue and piety may be extended in the world by all the influence which he can bring to bear upon it in advanced years.’ (Barnes)
‘Nature decays but grace thrives. Fruit, as far as nature is concerned, belongs to days of vigour; but in the garden of grace, when plants are weak in themselves, they become strong in the Lord, and abound in fruit acceptable with God.’ (Spurgeon)
‘The young Christian is lovely, like a tree in the blossoms of spring: the aged Christian is valuable, like a tree in autumn, bending with ripe fruit. We therefore look for something superior in old disciples. More deadness to the world, the vanity of which they have had more opportunities to see; more meekness of wisdom; more disposition to make sacrifices for the sake of peace; more maturity of judgment in divine things; more confidence in God; more richness of experience.’ (William Jay)
‘The point on which the Psalmist in this passage fixes, as he contemplates the blessedness of God’s own children, is the beauty and happiness of their old age…The Psalmist, having spoken of the brief prosperity of the wicked, and having compared it with the springing and flourishing of the grass, which grows to its little height only to be immediately cut down, naturally and beautifully compares the righteous, not with the deciduous herbage, but with the hardy tree that lives on through the summer’s drought and the winter’s storms, and from season to season still renews its growth.’ (Leonard Bacon)
They will stay fresh and green – not like the wicked, who will spring up and then perish, like grass, v5.
Proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him” – May this testimony, rather than bitter regret and a sour temper, characterise our own old age!
They are truly blessed who remember their chief end in their old age: to ‘glorify God and enjoy him for ever.’