In these verses we have,
I. A solemn appeal to God against the cruel oppressors of his people, Ps. 94:1, 2. This speaks terror enough to them, that they have the prayers of God’s people against them, who cry day and night to him to avenge them of their adversaries; and shall he not avenge them speedily? Luke 18:3, 7. Observe here,
1. The titles they give to God for the encouraging of their faith in this appeal: O God! to whom vengeance belongeth; and thou Judge of the earth. We may with boldness appeal to him; for, (1.) He is judge, supreme judge, judge alone, from whom every man’s judgment proceeds. He that gives law gives sentence upon every man according to his works, by the rule of that law. He has prepared his throne for judgment. He has indeed appointed magistrates to be avengers under him (Rom. 13:4), but he is the avenger in chief, to whom even magistrates themselves are accountable; his throne is the last refuge (the dernier ressort, as the law speaks) of oppressed innocency. He is universal judge, not of this city or country only, but judge of the earth, of the whole earth: none are exempt from his jurisdiction; nor can it be alleged against an appeal to him in any court that it is coram non judice—before a person not judicially qualified. (2.) He is just. As he has authority to avenge wrong, so it is his nature, and property, and honour. This also is implied in the title here given to him and repeated with such an emphasis, O God! to whom vengeance belongs, who wilt not suffer might always to prevail against right. This is a good reason why we must not avenge ourselves, because God has said, Vengeance is mine; and it is daring presumption to usurp his prerogative and step into his throne, Rom. 12:19. Let this alarm those who do wrong, whether with a close hand, so as not to be discovered, or with a high hand, so as not to be controlled, There is a God to whom vengeance belongs, who will certainly call them to an account; and let it encourage those who suffer wrong to bear it with silence, committing themselves to him who judges righteously.
2. What it is they ask of God. (1.) That he would glorify himself, and get honour to his own name. Wicked persecutors thought God had withdrawn and had forsaken the earth. “Lord,” say they, “show thyself; make them know that thou art and that thou art ready to show thyself strong on the behalf of those whose hearts are upright with thee.” The enemies thought God was conquered because his people were. “Lord,” say they, “lift up thyself, be thou exalted in thy own strength. Lift up thyself, to be seen, to be feared; and suffer not thy name to be trampled upon and run down.” (2.) That he would mortify the oppressors: Render a reward to the proud; that is, “Reckon with them for all their insolence, and the injuries they have done to thy people.” These prayers are prophecies, which speak terror to all the sons of violence. The righteous God will deal with them according to their merits.
II. A humble complaint to God of the pride and cruelty of the oppressors, and an expostulation with him concerning it, Ps. 94:3-6. Here observe,
1. The character of the enemies they complain against. They are wicked; they are workers of iniquity; they are bad, very bad, themselves, and therefore they hate and persecute those whose goodness shames and condemns them. Those are wicked indeed, and workers of the worst iniquity, lost to all honour and virtue, who are cruel to the innocent and hate the righteous.
2. Their haughty barbarous carriage which they complain of. (1.) They are insolent, and take a pleasure in magnifying themselves. They talk high and talk big; they triumph; they speak loud things; they boast themselves, as if their tongues were their own and their hands too, and they were accountable to none for what they say or do, and as if the day were their own, and they doubted not but to carry the cause against God and religion. Those that speak highly of themselves, that triumph and boast, are apt to speak hardly of others; but there will come a day of reckoning for all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against God, his truths, and ways, and people, Jude 1:15. (2.) They are impious, and take a pleasure in running down God’s people because they are his (Ps. 94:5): “They break in pieces thy people, O Lord! break their assemblies, their estates, their families, their persons, in pieces, and do all they can to afflict thy heritage, to grieve them, to crush them, to run them down, to root them out.” God’s people are his heritage; there are those that, for his sake, hate them, and seek their ruin. This is a very good plea with God, in our intercessions for the church: “Lord, it is thine; thou hast a property in it. It is thy heritage; thou hast a pleasure in it, and out of it the rent of thy glory in this world issues. And wilt thou suffer these wicked men to trample upon it thus?” (3.) They are inhuman, and take a pleasure in wronging those that are least able to help themselves (Ps. 94:6); they not only oppress and impoverish, but they slay the widow and the stranger; not only neglect the fatherless, and make a prey of them, but murder them, because they are weak and exposed, and sometimes lie at their mercy. Those whom they should protect from injury they are most injurious to, perhaps because God has taken them into his particular care. Who would think it possible that any of the children of men should be thus barbarous?
3. A modest pleading with God concerning the continuance of the persecution: “Lord, how long shall they do thus?” And again, How long? When shall this wickedness of the wicked come to an end?
III. A charge of atheism exhibited against the persecutors, and an expostulation with them upon that charge.
1. Their atheistical thoughts are here discovered (Ps. 94:7): Yet they say, The Lord shall not see. Though the cry of their wickedness is very great and loud, though they rebel against the light of nature and the dictates of their own consciences, yet they have the confidence to say, “The Lord shall not see; he will not only wink at small faults, but shut his eyes at great ones too.” Or they think they have managed it so artfully, under colour of justice and religion perhaps, that it will not be adjudged murder. “The God of Jacob, though his people pretend to have such an interest in him, does not regard it either as against justice or as against his own people; he will never call us to an account for it.” Thus they deny God’s government of the world, banter his covenant with his people, and set the judgment to come at defiance.
2. They are here convicted of folly and absurdity. He that says either that Jehovah the living God shall not see or that the God of Jacob shall not regard the injuries done to his people, Nabal is his name and folly is with him; and yet here he is fairly reasoned with, for his conviction and conversion, to prevent his confusion (Ps. 94:8): “Understand, you brutish among the people, and let reason guide you.” Note, The atheistical, though they set up for wits, and philosophers, and politicians, yet are really the brutish among the people; if they would but understand, they would believe. God, by the prophet, speaks as if he thought the time long till men would be men, and show themselves so by understanding and considering: “You fools, when will you be wise, so wise as to know that God sees and regards all you say and do, and to speak and act accordingly, as those that must give account?” Note, None are so bad but means are to be used for the reclaiming and reforming of them, none so brutish, so foolish, but it should be tried whether they may not yet be made wise; while there is life there is hope. To prove the folly of those that question God’s omniscience and justice the psalmist argues,
(1.) From the works of creation (Ps. 94:9), the formation of human bodies, which as it proves that there is a God, proves also that God has infinitely and transcendently in himself all those perfections that are in any creature. He that planted the ear (and it is planted in the head, as a tree in the ground) shall he not hear? No doubt he shall, more and better than we can. He that formed the eye (and how curiously it is formed above any part of the body anatomists know and let us know by their dissections) shall he not see? Could he give, would he give, that perfection to a creature which he has not in himself? Note, [1.] The powers of nature are all derived from the God of nature. See Exod. 4:11. [2.] By the knowledge of ourselves we may be led a great way towards the knowledge of God—if by the knowledge of our own bodies, and the organs of sense, so as to conclude that if we can see and hear much more can God, then certainly by the knowledge of our own souls and their noble faculties. The gods of the heathen had eyes and saw not, ears and heard not; our God has no eyes nor ears, as we have, and yet we must conclude he both sees and hears, because we have our sight and hearing from him, and are accountable to him for our use of them.
(2.) From the works of providence (Ps. 94:10): He that chastises the heathen for their polytheism and idolatry, shall not he much more correct his own people for their atheism and profaneness? He that chastises the children of men for oppressing and wronging one another, shall not he correct those that profess to be his own children, and call themselves so, and yet persecute those that are really so? Shall not we be under his correction, under whose government the whole world is? Does he regard as King of nations, and shall he not much more regard as the God of Jacob? Dr. Hammond gives another very probably sense of this: “He that instructs the nations (that is, gives them his law), shall not he correct, that is, shall not he judge them according to that law, and call them to an account for their violations of it? In vain was the law given if there will not be a judgment upon it.” And it is true that the same word signifies to chastise and to instruct, because chastisement is intended for instruction and instruction should go along with chastisement.
(3.) From the works of grace: He that teaches man knowledge, shall he not know? He not only, as the God of nature, has given the light of reason, but, as the God of grace, has given the light of revelation, has shown man what is true wisdom and understanding; and he that does this, shall he not know? Job 28:23, 28. The flowing of the streams is a certain sign of the fulness of the fountain. If all knowledge is from God, no doubt all knowledge is in God. From this general doctrine of God’s omniscience, the psalmist not only confutes the atheists, who said, “The Lord shall not see (Ps. 94:7), he will not take cognizance of what we do;” but awakens us all to consider that God will take cognizance even of what we think (Ps. 94:11): The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are vanity. [1.] He knows those thoughts in particular, concerning God’s conniving at the wickedness of the wicked, and knows them to be vain, and laughs at the folly of those who by such fond conceits buoy themselves up in sin. [2.] He knows all the thoughts of the children of men, and knows them to be, for the most part, vain, that the imaginations of the thoughts of men’s hearts are evil, only evil, and that continually. Even in good thoughts there is a fickleness and inconstancy which may well be called vanity. It concerns us to keep a strict guard upon our thoughts, because God takes particular notice of them. Thoughts are words to God, and vain thoughts are provocations.