The Psalm titles are as ancient as the text of the Psalms themselves. The ancient versions prove that they are no modern addition. If then we may put confidence in them why is it that so frequently these remarks seem so obscure? Every one feels their obscurity. No critic has succeeded in satisfactorily showing the true sense of "On Neginoth" and similar terms. Musical instruments are almost always referred to in these terms, but these joyflu instruments of holy service have been lost in the ruin of Israel's temple.
It is some what howveer for us to know that the times of the true David and Solomon where typified, as to their manifold streams of joy, by the Neginoth, Sheminith and similar forms of harp and psaltery.
The Psalm before us, describing the chief good, was one sung on Zion in the tabernacle and afterward in the temple on Neginoth, some stringed instrument played upon by the stroke of the fingers or the musicians plectrum. It's theme calls for a joyful instrument.
This is the first Psalm inscribed "to the chief musician" and there is an interesting propriety in this being so. Its subject throughout is of Jehovah as the chief good - Israel's true blessedness - what more fitting than to give it to be sung in the midst of all the people by Asaph, the leader of the sacred music in the days of David? (1 Chron 16:5). Fifty three Psalms are for the chief musician.
May we not suppose the chief musician took the high place in the typical economy? Was he not used by the Lord to represent to Israel Him who is to lead the praise of the grreat congregation? (Psalm 22:25)
When he sang such deeply melancholy Psalms as the twenty second was the scene not fitted to bring into the minds of God's people the idea of the suffering Saviour, passing from the unutterable groanings to the joy unspeakable?
This Psalms takes a survey of the earth's best enjoyments - the sons of men revelling in the penty of corn and wine, the joy of harvest and of vintage. Their mirth is loud, their mockery of less mirthful ones tnan themselves is keen, vanity is their pursuit, false joys their fascinations. To such a happy multitude our Psalm represents one approaching who has come from weeing in secret places (v1).
Entering their circle, this Righteous One calls upon them to consider their ways "O you sons of men" is his cry "how long will you turn my glory into shame? How long will you love vanity and seek lies? When will you leave broken cisterns? When will you turn from the golden calf back to the God of Israel, your glory? A pause ensues - "Selah" marks it. It is the sielnce of one who waits for the effect of his expostulation; but there is no response and he lifts his voice again and leaves his tesimony among them.
"But know the Lord has set apart the godlyl for himself." The Lord keeps the godlyl; each such ma is liek the witnesses of Revelation 11:6: "these have power to shut heaven and to smite the earth" for "the Lord hears when I call upon him" Well then may the sons of men give ear.
"Stand in awe - consider - flee to the atoning sacrifices appointed by the God of my righteousness" (v1).
Having done so, rest yourselves on Him; for a testify that the experience of all who have tried this plan of happiness has been such that they can answer the question "who can show us any good?" by an upward look to Jehovah, "Lord, lift on us the light of your face!" "Yes" says the speaker to his God, to whom he had cast his upward glance, and by whose look of love he seems riveted. "No sooner did my prayer ascend than the answer came. No sooner did I look to Him than the sun broke through the dark clouds "you have put more gladness in my heart than in the time when corn and wine abounded. I lay me down and sleep in peace; for you Lord, giving me the full portion of Israel dwelling in their land of corn and win, with its heavens dropping dew - Deut 33:28 - you alone make me dwell safely."
There is an undoubted alusion in the last verse to the blessing of Moses in Deut 33:28, where Israel's final destiny is declared to be dwelling in undisturbed security and needing none to help or bless them but Jehovah. In this Psalm teh godly one anticipates the blessedness that is not yet his portion, so we see him fixing his eyes on the future even while he has great present gladness. The vanity of teh sons of men is all the more clearly seen in light of the coming glory.
We can easily understand how any true child of God can use these words - they so exactly delineate his state of feeling both toward his God, and toward his fellow men. But in no lips could they be so appropriate as in His "who spoke as no man speaks." Indeed, is there not throughout a tone like that of "Wisdom" in Proverbs 1 and 8. The party addressed is the "sons of men" as there; and there is the same expostulatory and anxious voice, "How long you simple ones" (1:22) "Hear for I will speak of excellent things" (8:6).
We might imagine every syllable of this precious Psalm used by our Master some evening, when about to leave the Temple for the day, and retiring to his chosen rest at Bethany (v8), after another fruitfless expostulation with the men of Israel. And we may read it stillas the very utterance of his heart, longing over man, and delighting in God.
But further, not only is this the utterance of the Head, it is also the language of one of his members in full sympathy with him in holy feeling. This is a Psalm with which the righteous may make their dwellings resound, morning and evening, as they cast a sad look over a world that rejects God's grace.
They may sing it while they cling more and more every day to Jehovah, as their all sufficient heritage, now and in the age to come. They may sing it too, in the happy confidence of faith and hope, when the evening of this world's day is coming, And may then fall asleep in the certainty of what shall greet their eyes on the Resurrection morning - "sleeping embosomed in his grace, till morning shadows flee."
If therefore we were required to state the substance of this Psalm in a few words, we should scarcely err in describing its theme as, the Godly One's chief good.