This Psalm, in its literal sense appears to relate to the many vexations which David endured by the rebellions of the original inhabitants of the land of Canaan, before he brought them into subjection. Upon these nations, who were never wholly extirpated, as they disturbed him in the peaceful enjoyment of his kingdom, he calls clown the severest imprecations. In the spiritual interpretation of this Psalm, though the outward condition of the person be used as a basis, our observation should be exclusively directed to certain states of the human mind, as they are represented in the various circumstances, and natural impulses and modes of thinking, which belong to the natural man in time and space. David here represents the spiritual man, and pre-eminently the Lord's Divine Truth in relation to the spiritual man; and the enemies who so frequently disturbed his government, represent the evil propensities of the natural man, which, by rising up in rebellion, obstruct the power of the Divine Influx, and then, uncontrolled by the Divine Truth, the external man gives free vent to the disorderly passions and grovelling desires which are congenial to his nature.
Verse 1. " Why standest Thou afar off, O Lord? why hidest Thou Thyself in times of trouble? " Such expressions as these, with which the Holy Scripture abounds, are adapted to the natural and sensual mode in which man is accustomed to think of the Divine Being in relation to himself. Thus the common supposition is, that occasionally He withdraws Himself from man : and, in this passage, that his troubles are a consequence of God's being afar off, and hidden from sight. From these erroneous suppositions he concludes that, whenever he is in distress, his grievances are visitations and punishments from the Divine Being, who. in consequence of the transgressions of His creatures, withdraws from them His protection. Such are the appearances of truth which are common to the literal sense : but the spiritual sense of this verse describes the perception which is imparted to man of the opposition in his natural state of mind to the Divine Influx. The estrangement of the will is represented by the Lord's standing afar off and the alienation of the understanding, by His hiding Himself. This perception of an aversion to the Divine Influx, on the part of the natural man, serves to awaken, and increase the vigilance of the spiritual man, who suffers the Lord, by means of His Divine Truth, to wage war internally against the evils and falsities which rise up against him ; and for this purpose he implores His assistance. As the assistance depends upon the desire of man to he assisted, and to hold all evils, whether of intention or of act, to be sins against God, it is man who, by reciprocation, determines the measure of the Lord's presence, and the conquest of the hells in him. The various modes by which this conquest is achieved may be learnt from the internal sense of the miracles wrought by the Lord at His temporal advent, which corresponds in every respect to His spiritual advent. For there is a like variety in the spiritual reception of the Lord now as at the time of His natural manifestation; and now, as formerly, He is an object of love to one who, by the reformation of his life, desires His presence; but of aversion and of horror to him who, being devoted to the love of himself, rejects the mercy of his Saviour. His advent is confined neither to a specific place nor to a specific time, but He is always "coming" to heal our spiritual diseases, and to raise us from spiritual death. Now these states, being as -various in kind as human minds are, we may conceive how all-comprehensive that Holy Book must be, which includes in its spiritual sense every possible variety. The Word of God, when spiritually perceived, displays, but according to the measure and degree of the perception, the indefinite variety of states which contribute to the formation of the church in man.
Verse 2. "The wicked, in his pride doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined." However contrary to the spirit of charity this may appear in the literal sense, the spiritual sense which shows us that the root of evil, and even of the persecutions to which we are subjected, is in ourselves, leads us, in proportion as we condemn ourselves, to be charitable to others; not supposing that the misfortunes of our enemies are judgments inflicted upon them by God in consequence of their enmity to us, but holding their salvation to be equally the object of the Divine Mercy as our own. The wicked, spiritually, are the wicked desires of the natural man, which are condemned and rejected, on account of their opposition to that humility of spirit, which acknowledges its own poverty, and ascribes all things to the Lord.
Verse 4. "The wicked through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God; God is not in all his thoughts." In this, and in the following verses, we find many expressions adapted to the natural man, for they are condemnatory of others ; nor do they indicate in the least that the source of the persecution complained of is in self. The instruction, however, conveyed by the natural sense, is well fitted for man in his natural condition, who must begin with the condemnation of evil in others, before he can rise to a spiritual perception of the evil in himself. He must see, and even feel, how destructive it is to all happiness by the examples before him and by his own experience, before he can turn his thoughts inward to investigate the secret principles which influence his own conduct, and before he can be struck with the awful similarity between that state of mind which he has been prone to condemn in others, and that which he at length discovers in himself. How noble, how truly human is the end to which he then attains! How admirable are the progressive means given him for its attainment! For are not the means, which are instilled into his mind, the natural and the spiritual perceptions of truth, by the former of which he sees the true nature and miserable consequences of wickedness in others, and by the latter of which he is led jealously and unsparingly to scrutinize the motives of his own actions? And is not love and charity the end, which dispose man to be ever kind and lenient in his judgment upon others, and to find out a possible good motive even for a mistaken action, or at least an excuse for it in the darkness which naturally overspreads the human mind.
Verses 3 and 4 might more correctly be rendered, "For the wicked boasteth of his hearts desire, and the covetous esteem themselves blessed. The wicked abhorreth the Lord : through the pride of his countenance he will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts."
Verse 8. "He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages (or of the courts), in the secret places doth he murder the innocent." To be innocently minded is to desire to be led by our Heavenly Father in all things, just as though we were little children ; every thought, every wish, being submitted to the guidance of His Love and His Wisdom. To murder the innocent is the reverse of this. It is to desire in all things to go our own way, that is, to follow the insane dictates of our own selfish desires, and to become the companions of infernal spirits, with whom we are leagued by such desires, instead of being the happy and enlightened associates of heavenly beings.
Verse 9. " He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den ; he lieth in wait to catch the poor; he doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net" The philosophy of the New Church teaches that all the forms of nature are effects of the condition of the human will and intellect, and therefore they correspond. The lion signifies the falsehood of evil, that is, the form of some particular evil of the will by which it is manifested. The den of the lion signifies the natural mind; and the poor, they who are spiritually poor, or, abstracted from person, that spiritual poverty of the mind which the Lord, in His sermon on the mount, calls "Blessed." Let us not erroneously suppose that the lion and the den are mere verbal correspondencies. No, the forms themselves, whensoever and wheresoever they are presented to the sight, correspond to the state of the church, for they have their origin in man, and through him they exist.