This Psalm, as well as the fourth, was to he played on "Neginoth," again marking the delights which flow from repentance, and from the resistance to evil ; there is this difference, however, between the two, that the instrument in the title of the latter Psalm is also called " Shemminith," that is, an octochord, or an instrument with eight strings, and the number eight signifies the completion of a former state and the beginning of a new one. For man. so long as he is in this world, cannot properly be said to be regenerated, but rather to be in the course of regeneration, and therefore he is continually liable to a recurrence of temptations. But every time they recur, though they come under a more insidious and seductive form, he has a greater measure of Divine Light enabling him to detect their true character, and of the Divine Strength to subdue them. Man passes through similar alternations of state in the life of eternity, but with this difference, that there the alternations are not between good and evil, truth and falsehood, but between a purer good and one less pure, between truth interior and exterior ; and by these successive changes their love, their wisdom, their inward happiness, and external joys, become more and more full and perfect.
As the present is always the parent of the future, and as upon each step of the heavenly ladder, fresh strength is imparted to us that we may mount still higher, so in this Psalm we find a recurrence of temptation described, in order that, by a more full and perfect admission of the Divine Life into the will and understanding, our joys and happiness may be indefinitely multiplied and increased. During our sojourn in this world, we are never secure against the recurrence of temptation, in some form or other, turning us from love to the Lord and our neighbour to the love of ourselves and the intoxicating pleasures of the world ; and if we have not our Heavenly Father "on our side when men" spiritually " rise up against us," we fall in the temptation. But in heaven both the struggle and the pain of the struggle are past, for angelic life consists in a series of victories over self, in the most varied and exquisite delights accompanying each conquest, and in increasing humility and gratitude to the Divine Conqueror. In consequence of this succession of heavenly victories, there is no external night in heaven, for nothing more than a spiritual twilight is necessary to keep up that progression of life which is essential to the happiness of angels.
The first seven verses of this Psalm describe a state of profound self-abasement and repentance. The intensity of the sorrow is great, and because it is so, "the Lord on high is mightier than many waters." If we find that we cannot prevail, but fall under the temptation, we may then be sure that we are relying upon ourselves, and our own strength. For He, who alone is Power, can have nothing to resist the ardency of His love, and the omnipotence of His protection, but what arises from ourselves and our own repugnancy to His operation. In the eighth verse the change is described which is produced by the Divine-Power, putting an end to the opposition of the natural mind, and restoring man to happiness and peace. "Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity ; for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping." The Lord is said to hear the voice of my weeping, when, by the obedience of love, I reject from my will the false suggestions which tempt me to sin. Weeping corresponds here to repentance, or the rejection of the falsehood which leads to evil. The night of sorrow being past, when the spiritual morning dawns, the Lord is said to hear man's voice; for he has then become obedient to the dictates of Divine Truth. In the last verse, his enemies are told to "return," or turn back, "and to be ashamed," signifying, in the spiritual sense, that man no longer delights in evil, but holds it in aversion, and has acquired a conscience to direct him aright. The conscience of what is right is a plane for the reception of the Divine Influx, and therefore the shame, which is grounded in conscience, has at all times been held to indicate that the germs of right conduct are not destroyed. To crush these germs is to destroy the heavenly seed, which, if it grow not in this life, cannot be raised in another.
Towards the close of this Psalm, that heavenly consolation is announced which is seen to follow the sorrows of spiritual temptation. To him who finds himself wounded in the way, who is left stript of his raiment and half dead, the blessed Samaritan is present, binding up his wounds, and pouring in the oil of His Divine Love, and the wine of His Divine Wisdom, that when He comes again He may find him restored to health.
In the fifth verse of this Psalm, we have one proof, among many others, that, previous to the Babylonish captivity, the Jews had no knowledge of a future life; or, if any, so trifling and indistinct as scarcely to deserve the name. And therefore the Sadducees, at the time of the Lord's manifestation, not holding the tradition of the elders, but confining their belief to the books of the written law, denied the resurrection.
But, though nothing can be gained from the literal sense but that which shows the sensual character of the Jews at the time this Psalm was written, the spiritual sense of the verse before us elicits an important truth. The death of the body corresponds to a state of evil in the will, and the grave, being a receptacle for the dead body, corresponds to the intellect, when it takes the form of, or manifests the evil of, the will. "In death there is no remembrance of the Lord," which signifies that He is not present, because there is no affection for His presence in the will; and in the grave, or in the understanding which is the form of such a will, no thanks can be given, signifying that no truth can be received which can serve to display the Divine Mercy.