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Our God comes and does not keep silence,
before him is a devouring fire,
and a mighty tempest all around him.
The Majesty of Messiah.
A psalm of Asaph.
1 The mighty God, even the Lord, hath spoken, and called the earth from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof. 2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined. 3 Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence: a fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him. 4 He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that he may judge his people. 5 Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice. 6 And the heavens shall declare his righteousness: for God is judge himself. Selah.
It is probable that Asaph was not only the chief musician, who was to put a tune to this psalm, but that he was himself the penman of it; for we read that in Hezekiah's time they praised God in the words of David and of Asaph the seer, 2 Chron. xxix. 30. Here is,
I. The court called, in the name of the King of kings (v. 2): The mighty God, even the Lord, hath spoken—El, Elohim, Jehovah, the God of infinite power justice and mercy, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. God is the Judge, the Son of God came for judgement into the world, and the Holy Ghost is the Spirit of judgment. All the earth is called to attend, not only because the controversy God had with his people Israel for their hypocrisy and ingratitude might safely be referred to any man of reason (nay, let the house of Israel itself judge between God and his vineyard, Isa. v. 3), but because all the children of men are concerned to know the right way of worshipping God, in spirit and in truth, because when the kingdom of the Messiah should be set up all should be instructed in the evangelical worship, and invited to join in it (see Mal. i. 11, Acts x. 34), and because in the day of final judgment all nations shall be gathered together to receive their doom, and every man shall give an account of himself unto God.
II. The judgment set, and the Judge taking his seat. As, when God gave the law to Israel in the wilderness, it is said, He came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir, and shone forth from Mount Paran, and came with ten thousands of his saints, and then from his right hand went a fiery law (Deut. xxxiii. 2), so, with allusion to that, when God comes to reprove them for their hypocrisy, and to send forth his gospel to supersede the legal institutions, it is said here, 1. That he shall shine out of Zion, as then from the top of Sinai, v. 2. Because in Zion his oracle was now fixed, thence his judgments upon that provoking people denounced, and thence the orders issued for the execution of them (Joel ii. 1): Blow you the trumpet in Zion. Sometimes there are more than ordinary appearances of God's presence and power working with and by his word and ordinances, for the convincing of men's consciences and the reforming and refining of his church; and then God, who always dwells in Zion, may be said to shine out of Zion. Moreover, he may be said to shine out of Zion because the gospel, which set up spiritual worship, was to go forth from Mount Zion (Isa. ii. 3, Mic. iv. 2), and the preachers of it were to begin at Jerusalem (Luke xxiv. 47), and Christians are said to come unto Mount Zion, to receive their instructions, Heb. xii. 22, 28. Zion is here called the perfection of beauty, because it was the holy hill; and holiness is indeed the perfection of beauty. 2. That he shall come, and not keep silence, shall no longer seem to wink at the sins of men, as he had done (v. 21), but shall show his displeasure at them, and shall also cause that mystery to be published to the world by his holy apostles which had long lain hid, that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs (Eph. iii. 5, 6) and that the partition-wall of the ceremonial law should be taken down; this shall now no longer be concealed. In the great day our God shall come and shall not keep silence, but shall make those to hear his judgment that would not hearken to his law. 3. That his appearance should be very majestic and terrible: A fire shall devour before him. The fire of his judgments shall make way for the rebukes of his word, in order to the awakening of the hypocritical nation of the Jews, that the sinners in Zion, being afraid of that devouring fire (Isa. xxxiii. 14), might be startled out of their sins. When his gospel kingdom was to be set up Christ came to send fire on the earth, Luke xii. 49. The Spirit was given in cloven tongues as of fire, introduced by a rushing mighty wind, which was very tempestuous, Acts ii. 2, 3. And in the last judgment Christ shall come in flaming fire, 2 Thess. i. 8. See Dan. vii. 9; Heb. x. 27. 4. That as on Mount Sinai he came with ten thousands of his saints, so he shall now call to the heavens from above, to take notice of this solemn process (v. 4), as Moses often called heaven and earth to witness against Israel (Deut. iv. 26; xxxi. 28, xxxii. 1), and God by his prophets, Isa. i. 2; Mic. vi. 2. The equity of the judgment of the great day will be attested and applauded by heaven and earth, by saints and angels, even all the holy myriads.
III. The parties summoned (v. 5): Gather my saints together unto me. This may be understood either, 1. Of saints indeed: "Let them be gathered to God through Christ; let the few pious Israelites be set by themselves;" for to them the following denunciations of wrath do not belong; rebukes to hypocrites ought not to be terrors to the upright. When God will reject the services of those that only offered sacrifice, resting in the outside of the performance, he will graciously accept those who, in sacrificing, make a covenant with him, and so attend to and answer the end of the institution of sacrifices. The design of the preaching of the gospel, and the setting up of Christ's kingdom, was to gather together in one the children of God, John xi. 52. And at the second coming of Jesus Christ all his saints shall be gathered together unto him (2 Thess. ii. 1) to be assessors with him in the judgment; for the saints shall judge the world, 1 Cor. vi. 2. Now it is here given as a character of the saints that they have made a covenant with God by sacrifice. Note, (1.) Those only shall be gathered to God as his saints who have, in sincerity, covenanted with him, who have taken him to be their God and given up themselves to him to be his people, and thus have joined themselves unto the Lord. (2.) It is only by sacrifice, by Christ the great sacrifice (from whom all the legal sacrifices derived what value they had), that we poor sinners can covenant with God so as to be accepted of him. There must be an atonement made for the breach of the first covenant before we can be admitted again into covenant. Or, 2. It may be understood of saints in profession, such as the people of Israel were, who are called a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, Exod. xix. 6. They were, as a body politic, taken into covenant with God, the covenant of peculiarity; and it was done with great solemnity, by sacrifice, Exod. xxiv. 8. "Let them come and hear what God has to say to them; let them receive the reproofs God sends them now by his prophets, and the gospel he will, in due time, send them by his Son, which shall supersede the ceremonial law. If these be slighted, let them expect to hear from God another way, and to be judged by that word which they will not be ruled by."
IV. The issue of this solemn trial foretold (v. 6): The heavens shall declare his righteousness, those heavens that were called to be witnesses to the trial (v. 4); the people in heaven shall say, Hallelujah. True and righteous are his judgments, Rev. xix. 1, 2. The righteousness of God in all the rebukes of his word and providence, in the establishment of his gospel (which brings in an everlasting righteousness, and in which the righteousness of God is revealed), and especially in the judgment of the great day, is what the heavens will declare; that is, 1. It will be universally known, and proclaimed to all the world. As the heavens declare the glory, the wisdom and power, of God the Creator (Ps. xix. 1), so they shall no less openly declare the glory, the justice and righteousness, of God the Judge; and so loudly do they proclaim both that there is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard, as it follows there, v. 3. 2. It will be incontestably owned and proved; who can deny what the heavens declare? Even sinners' own consciences will subscribe to it, and hell as well as heaven will be forced to acknowledge the righteousness of God. The reason given is, for God is Judge himself, and therefore, (1.) He will be just; for it is impossible he should do any wrong to any of his creatures, he never did, nor ever will. When men are employed to judge for him they may do unjustly; but, when he is Judge himself, there can be no injustice done. Is God unrighteous, who takes vengeance? The apostle, for this reason, startles at the thought of it; God forbid! for then how shall God judge the world? Rom. iii. 5, 6. These decisions will be perfectly just, for against them there will lie no exception, and from them there will lie no appeal. (2.) He will be justified; God is Judge, and therefore he will not only execute justice, but he will oblige all to own it; for he will be clear when he judges, Ps. li. 4.