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It gives you the record of David's experience as a believer, assaulted by suspicions and fears, and perplexities, which were prompted within him by an evil heart of unbelief, and aided and abetted by discouraging influences from without. It records, I say, the experience of a believer; for this is the language of his good confession (verse 1), “In the Lord put I my trust.” And yet, believer though he was, David had to note how painfully he was assaulted by suggestions so successfully thrown in as to reach his very "soul” with their disturbing influence.
His language, expressive at once of a sad complaint of the power of the temptation, and a remonstrance for throwing off the grasp it took of him, is “How say ye?”—as if the suggestion were so nefarious that it never should have been made—as if the utter groundlessness of the suggestion made it hard to conceive “how it ever could be thought, far less said—“How say ye to my soul, Flee?” The words are evidently descriptive of the spiritual conflict of a man of God when, in the exercise of faith, he had to maintain a struggle with unbelief.
Let us first attend to the manner in which the assault was made upon him, and then consider how he met it.
I. The manner in which the assault was made will appear, if you read verses 1, 2, and 3. “How say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain ? For, lo, the wicked bend their bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string, that they may privily shoot at the upright in heart. If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do ?” All this was said to his soul in the way of temptation to unfaithfulness and defection. By what means it was suggested we are not told. Was it, that, amid the multitude of his own thoughts within him, the natural unbelief of his evil heart expressed itself in the bodings of suspicion, and perplexity, and fear, and with such effect as to reach his very “soul,” as by a voice within himself raising the ready echoes of the dark depths of a nature that is deceitful and desperately wicked? Or was it that David was at this time the envied and hated guest at Saul's table, where, exposed to the javelin of the king's ungovernable passion, his departure from the king's presence was hastened by fears suggested by the courtiers of Saul ? Or was it that even Jonathan's affectionate concern for David's safety increased the force of the urgent call to “flee ?” Perhaps it was by some, at least, if not by all of these means, that the suggestion was made to him. For in all these ways have assaults of unbelief been often aided and abetted to the sore trying of the believer's faith and patience. What between the treachery of his own deceitful heart, and the malicious hatred of his enemies-yea, even also sometimes the affectionate concern for him of his friends—the believer finds it hard to resist the force which, from all these quarters at once, may be given to the suggestions of unbelieving fears in times of threatening danger. For it was evidently at such a time that David's faith was thus assaulted. “Lo, the wicked" threatened him. He was in the midst of those whose tender mercies are cruel. Every evil passion of unbridled lust might in a moment be let loose upon him. And they had at their command the instruments of a terrible destruction. "They bent their bow, they made ready their arrow upon the string," aiming with deliberate purpose to send the poisoned dart with the deadliest precision for wounding and killing. To make sure of their prey, their plan was to "privily shoot” at him, to do all that cunning could to catch him off his guard, to prevent every possibility of escape. The danger was well nigh desperate. The very “ foundations” of his safety were threatened with destruction. All that upon which we are wont to rest with confidence for protection seemed rent and tottering beneath David's feet. Integrity between man and man, justice in judgment, vigour in the execution of righteous laws, power to defend the right against might,--all these seemed hopelessly incapable of affording deliverance in the case of David. The warmest love of the fastest earthly friend could not protect him from the danger. A poor, forsaken outlaw in Israel, he was denied, among his own people, even the rights of man.
It was in these circumstances that David's faith was assaulted by what, as we have seen, he felt to be the nefarious suggestion of unbelief. It was said unto his soul, “Flee”_"flee as a bird to your mountain.” The suggestion thus came in a very insidious shape. It assumed the form of a prudent and very practicable hint for self-preservation. It was pleaded with him, that, while in such great danger where he was, he might find safety in the high places of the earth, in the most stable and enduring of any created refuge; and there was a great deal in the plea with which the man's reason and natural sense could sympathise.
Thus, considering the force of the appeal to his natural instincts—the time of very threatening danger at which it was made—and the means by which it was so successfully pressed
as to be felt by him as said to his very "soul”—it is evident that the assault to which the faith of David was here subjected was a powerful one. In the very sound of the remonstrance wherewith he threw off the temptation, there is soniething which plainly expresses how much he felt its force.
And yet it is equally evident that the unbelief expressed by the suggestion to "flee" had no affinity with David's faith While there doubtless was a disturbance of mind raised by the doubts and fears suggested to him by the aiders and ahettors of unbelief, it was a disturbance which did not in the least reach so far as to ruffle those depths of his being where faith had fastened on the Lord as the anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast. His feelings were disturbed, but his faith was unshaken. His feelings of astonishment at the unexpectedness of the assault, of indignation at the suspicion which unbelief attempted to cast upon the great and glorious Saviour whom he trusted, as if God could fail him; or his feelings of grief and pain at being beset within and without by influences so adverse to the due acknowledgment of the sufficiency and excellency of his Divine Master and Friend ;-such feelings, doubtless, the assault did stir; but how unmoved and firm is he in the determination of his heart towards the Lord by faith! The doubts and fears which beset him did not make David feel as if he needed to question the reality of his trust in God his Saviour. That the suggestions of patural sense proved temptations to distrust, did indeed ruffle his feelings, but did not disturb him with any apprehensions as to the truth of his faith. In the very face, therefore, of all these doubts and suspicions of natural sense, his language still is this firm confession of his faith, “In the Lord put I my trust.” His “soul" was at that very moment re-echoing a noisy tumult of excited fears within, when there was so formidable a threatening of fightings without; and yet the strugglings with unbelief are not to be mistaken for the writhings of despair. A conflict with distrustful apprehensions seemed to David not at all incompatible with the existence of faith in living power to overcome. With undaunted courage, therefore, he roused himself to the struggle, and, planting his foot in a firm resting-place or “the Rock whose work is perfect,” saying, “In the Lord put I my trust," he hurls defiance in the face of every opposition from unbelief and all its aiders and ahettors, crying, “How dare ye say to my soul, Flee?”
In thus considering, in the second place,
II. How David met the assaults of unbelief, I observe, that he overcame them, not by any indirect attempt to deal with the treacherous distrust as a subjective experience, but by a direct outgoing of his heart's affections towards the Lord, as He is presented to us sinners as the object of faith. What gave David all the courage he here expresses was his looking, not at himself, but directly at “the Lord.” This great height of superiority to the assaults of unbelief, David reached, not so much by any reflection upon the workings of his own mind, as by a reposing of his mind and heart upon the Lord,—not so much by a turning of his eye in upon his faith, (as if he were to find the foundation for a reliable assurance of salvation in his faith, or in anything within or about himself), but by a turning of his eye out and up, to fix his confidence firmly upon the Divine Redeemer, in and by whom alone he could be saved. It was not from his trust, but from the Divine Object of his trust, that David derived all the animating life of that resistance wherewith he met the assaults of unbelief. Instead of combating his unbelief by a reflection on his faith, David did what was far better, he set “the Lord” over against all the dangers and difficulties wherein natural sense had found reasons for despondency. The assault of unbelief was thus met, and met most successfully, by a direct act of faith upon its Divine Object. The very root of his despondency in the trial was thus effectually reached and eradicated. David thus struck away, from under them, the very standing-ground of all the fears which assailed him. He found a reason for assurance absolutely unassailable, when his faith fastened on the ever glorious and most blessed person of his Divine Saviour,—when, out of the fulness of the Godhead dwelling in “the Lord,” he drew, one after another, strong reasons exactly fitted to quiet every apprehension, and to quench every doubt as they rose upon him to cast him down.
Taking, then, the guidance of that hint for the farther unfolding of what follows in the Psalm, there will at once appear to be a very precious and profitable connection between the assaults of unbelief as they are described in verses 1, 2, and 3, and how they were met by the answers of faith in verses 4, 5, 6, 7. The connection will help us to apprehend “the Lord,” the glorious object of faith, in all His suitableness to our need, as tried and tempted sinners—will surely prove how utterly inexcusable is every suggestion of the fears of unbelief—and will fully justify the fervency of that rebuke wherewith the psalmist here sought to shame them down.
Let us try to bring out the connection here by considering the psalm as the record of a dialogue, as it were, between the aiders and abettors of unbelief on the one hand, and the believer's victorious faith on the other. That dialogue may thus be paraphrased.
1. “How say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain ?" Flee! as if there were no help for me in God! Flee! as if, with the craven spirit of hopeless subjection to sin and Satan, I must needs give up all attempts to withstand the enemies of my salvation ! Flee! as if I could be anywhere nearer safety than I am here with God, and where God is for me. How dare ye say, then, to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain ? Flee to your mountain ! How dare ye say so? I tell you (verse 4.) “The Lord in whom I put my trust, is in His holy temple, the Lord's throne is in the heavens." I will flee nowhere but there! “O that I had the wings of a dove, that I might flee away there and be at rest!” But, till I be taken to that rest, I can find safety no otherwise than by rising on the wings of faith and hope, far above the highest earthly refuge, be it never so outstanding and apparently secure, to seek, in His holy temple whose throne is in the heavens, that comfort, and safety, and sweet repose which no refuge here can give. Flee to my mountain ! My mountain is God."Other refuge have I none." Shall I flee to a mountain when the heavens are open to me ?-flee to even the strongest and most lasting of creatures, when the great Creator Himself is my Saviour ? “How say ye to my soul, Flee,” when I am clinging to the horns of the altar in the holy temple of the Lord's dwelling above, where I have found a hiding-place in the sanctuary of God, before the throne of the Eternal !
2. Again—“How say ye, Flee; for the wicked bend their bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string, that they may privily shoot at the upright in heart,”—as if the most cunning concealment of their mischief against me could ever succeed in hiding anything from His eye, or in circumventing His wisdom in whom I put my trust; for (verse 4.) “His eyes behold, His eyelids try the children of men.” No privacy can prevent the searching of His omniscience. "All things are naked and open before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." How say ye, Flee; for the wicked are preparing against me all the poisoned, swift, and deadly artillery of their cruel hatred ?-as if there were not upon my side One who hath said, “Vengeance is mine: I will repay.” In the Lord put I my trust, and I tell you (verses 5 and 6, “the wicked and him that loveth violence His soul