The Expositor's Bible: The Psalms, XXXIX.-LXXXIX. (Vol. 2) by W. Robertson Nicoll 0000-00-00 00:00:00

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by W. Robertson Nicoll
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The Expositor's Bible: The Psalms, XXXIX.-LXXXIX. (Vol. 2) by W. Robertson Nicoll
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In the first part (vv. 1-3) the frustrated resolve of silence is recorded. Its motive was fear of sinning in speech "while the wicked is before me." That phrase is often explained as meaning that the sight of the prosperity of the godless in contrast with his own sorrows tempted the singer to break out into arraigning God's providence, and that he schooled himself to look at their insolent ease unmurmuringly. But the psalm has no other references to other men's flourishing condition; and it is more in accordance with its tone to suppose that his own pains, and not their pleasures, prompted to the withheld words. The presence of "the wicked" imposed on his devout heart silence as a duty. We do not complain of a friend's conduct in the hearing of his enemies. God's servants have to watch their speech about Him when godless ears are listening, lest hasty words should give occasion for malicious glee or blasphemy. So, for God's honour, the psalmist put restraint on himself. The word rendered "bridle" in ver. 2 by the A.V. and R.V. is better taken as muzzle, for a muzzle closes the lips, and a bridle does not. The resolution thus energetically expressed was vigorously carried out: "I made myself dumb in still submission; I kept silence." And what came of it? "My sorrow was stirred." Grief suppressed is increased, as all the world knows. The closing words of ver. 2 b (lit. apart from good) are obscure, and very variously understood, some regarding them as an elliptical form of "from good and bad," and expressing completeness of silence; others taking "the good" to mean "the law, or the praise of God, or good-fortune, or such words as would serve to protect the singer from slanders." "But the preposition here employed, when it follows a verb meaning silence, does not introduce that concerning which silence is kept, but a negative result of silence" (Hupfeld). The meaning, then, is best given by some such paraphrase as "joylessly" or "and I had no comfort" (R.V.). The hidden sorrow gnawed beneath the cloak like a fire in a hollow tree; it burned fiercely unseen, and ate its way at last into sight. Locked lips make hearts hotter. Repression of utterance only feeds the fire, and sooner or later the "muzzle" is torn off, and pent-up feeling breaks into speech, often the wilder for the violence done to nature by the attempt to deny it its way. The psalmist's motive was right, and in a measure his silence was so; but his resolve did not at first go deep enough. It is the heart, not the mouth, that has to be silenced. To build a dam across a torrent without diminishing the sources that supply its waters only increases weight and pressure, and ensures a muddy flood when it bursts.

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