“Deliver me from the oppression of man: so will I keep Thy precepts” (Psa. 119:134).
In the former verse the man of God had begged grace with respect to internal enemies—to the bosom enemy, the flesh—that no sin might have dominion over him. Now he begs for deliverance from external enemies. The saints are not only exercised with their corruptions, but also with the malice of wicked men. We have to do both with sin and sinners—with temptations and persecutions. And therefore he desires first to be kept from sin, and after that from danger and trouble. Both are a trouble to us; they were so to David; and God can and will in time give us deliverance from both.
In the text we have, first, a prayer for mercy: “Deliver me from the oppression of man.” In the Hebrew it is “from the oppression of Adam,” the name of the first father, for the posterity. This term is put either by way of distinction, aggravation, or diminution. 1. Man by way of distinction. There is the oppression and tyranny of Satan and sin—but the Psalmist does not mean that now. 2. Man by way of aggravation. No creatures are so ravenous and destructive to one another as man. It is a shame that one man should oppress another. Beasts do not usually devour those of the same kind, but usually a man’s enemies are those of his own household. The nearer we are in bonds of alliance, the greater the hatred. We are of the same stock, and reason should tell everyone of us that we should do as we would be done to. Nay, of the same religion. We are cemented together by the blood of Christ, which obliges us to more brotherly kindness; and if we differ in a few things, we have more cause of alliance and relations enough to love one another more than we do. But for all this there is the oppression of man.
3. Man by way of diminution. To lessen the fear of this evil, the term “Adam” is given men, to show their weakness in comparison with God. Thou are God, but they that are so ready and forward to oppress and injure us are but men; Thou can easily overrule their power and break the yoke. I think this consideration chief because of other passages: “Thou wilt judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress” (Psa. 10:18). The oppressors are but men of the earth, a piece of red clay—frail men, that must within a while be laid in the dust. But it is more emphatically expressed: “Who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man that shall be made as grass; and forgettest the LORD thy Maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth; and hast feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor, as if were ready to destroy? And where is now the rage of the oppressor?” (Isa. 51:12, 13). When you have the immortal and almighty God to be your Protector, should you be afraid of a weak mortal man that is but Adam—a little enlivened dust? Within a little while he and all his fury is over and gone.
In the text we have, second, a resolution and promise of duty: “I will keep Thy precepts.” This is a constant observation of all God’s commandments. If God would interpose for his rescue. But did David do well to suspend his obedience upon so uncertain a condition? I answer— No. We must not understand it so as if he did bargain with God upon those terms and not otherwise; or as if before he had not kept them, and would now begin to. No, he would keep them; only this would be a new engagement to press him to keep them more constantly and more accurately. Look throughout this Psalm, and you shall find David still at his duty whatever his condition is. “The proud have had me greatly in derision: yet have I not declined from Thy law” (v. 5l)—there he is scorned, but not discouraged. “The hands of the wicked have robbed me; yet have I not forgotten Thy law” (v. 61)—there he is plundered, yet not discouraged. “The proud have forged a lie against me but I will keep Thy precepts with my whole heart” (v. 69)—falsely accused but not discouraged. His meaning was not that he would serve God no longer unless He would deliver him, but that he should have a new obligation—this should engage us afresh. He does beforehand promise that he would walk with God more closely.
From the text thus opened, we have these points:—First, deliverance from oppression is a blessing to be sought from the hands of God in prayer. Second, when God delivers us from the oppression of man, we should be quickened and encouraged in His service. Third, when we are praying for deliverance, we may interpose a promise for obedience. I will develop the first point by answering the question why, and then show you how. Why? This may be strengthened by these reasons—
First, we have liberty to ask for temporal things. Many think it too carnal to pray for health, food and raiment, long life, temporal deliverance. But what God has promised we may lawfully pray for: a prayer is but a promise sued for. These blessings are adopted into the covenant, as being useful to us in our journey; and therefore we may ask for them. Christ has taught us to pray that we may ask: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Protection and maintenance we ask for, as well as pardon and grace. It conduces to the honour of God that we should ask these things of Him, that we may testify our dependence, and acknowledge His inspection and government over all the affairs of the world. “He hath prepared His throne for judgment” (Psa. 9:7). Courts of justice among men are not always open to hear the plaintiff, but the Lord holds court continually: we may come to Him every day. He has prepared His throne to this end: to hear the petitions of His people when they are oppressed.
Second, our spiritual welfare is concerned in such temporal deliverances that we may serve God without impediment or distraction. The oppression of man is an impediment: it takes us away from many opportunities of service and bringing honour to God. “Pray that your flight be not in winter or on the Sabbath Day” (Matt. 24:20). Though it were lawful, it was grievous to the body to have flight in winter; to the soul to have it on the Sabbath. “Oppression will make a wise man mad” (Eccl. 7:7): it will discompose our spirits. Therefore it being so that oppression is ever reckoned among the temptations, we may pray not to enter into it.
Third, the glory of God is concerned. His people will honour Him more if one, especially an eminent one, be delivered from the oppression of men: “Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise Thy name” (Psa. 142:7). Besides the honour done to God by His people, He will more manifest Himself and His justice to the world. “The LORD is known by the judgments which He executeth” (Psa. 9:16). The world is led by sense: God will not be regarded as a Friend to persecutors. In short, it is not for the honour of God that His people should be left under oppression, as if He sought not after and cared for their welfare. Note how the afflicted condition of the church is called “the reproach of the heathen” (Ezek. 36:30). The heathen would cast this in their teeth, as if their God had no respect for them or were not able to help them.
Fourth, prayer engages us to constancy. God’s deliverance will be better for us than our own; that is, than those sinful shifts and ways of escape that we can devise. What we ask of God must be had in God’s way. It binds us to seek no other way of escape than we can commend to God’s blessing in prayer. It is said of the saints: they “were tortured, not accepting deliverance: that they might obtain a better resurrection” (Heb. 11:35). Would any refuse deliverance when it is tendered to them? Yes, upon such spiteful conditions: they were commanded to do something contrary to the laws of God, and therefore they preferred God’s deliverance and not their own.
Fifth, seeking deliverance at the hands of God does ease the heart of a great deal of trouble, and deliver it from those inordinate affections and tormenting passions which otherwise the oppression of man might raise in us—fear, grief, anger, envy, despair, dread to suffer more, sorrow for what we suffer already, anger and envy against those oppressors by whom we suffer, and despair because of the continuance of our molestations. All these are mischiefs to the soul, but can be cured by prayer.
1. Fear, because of the mightiness of them that oppress, or threaten to oppress. We are told that “the fear of man bringeth a snare, but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe” (Prov. 29:25). We are full of distracting thoughts, and if we cherish them they will weaken our trust in God and dependence upon His promises. Nay, the mischief will not stop there: they who trust not God, can never be true to Him: we shall run to carnal shifts and fearing men more than God do things displeasing to Him. But how shall we ease our hearts of this burden? By prayer? Partly, because then we use our fear aright when it only drives us to seek God’s protection: “Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD” (2 Chron. 20:3). And partly because prayer discovers a higher object of fear: the fear of God drives out the fear of man. In God’s strength we may defy enemies: see Psalm 27:1.
2. Grief. It clogs the heart and stays the wheels so that we drive on heavily in the spiritual life. Worldly sorrow works death (2 Cor. 7:10): it brings on hardness of heart and quenches all our vigour. “By sorrow of heart the spirit is broken” (Prov. 15:13). A heavy heart does little to the purpose for God. Now how shall we get rid of this? The cure is by prayer. For vent gives ease to all our passions. “Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil. 4:6). As when wind gets into the caverns of the earth, it causes terrible convulsions and earthquakes till it get a vent: so the mind is eased when we can pour out our care into the bosom of God, and wait till deliverance comes from above.
3. The violent passions of anger, envy, and revenge against oppressors: these are all for naught and do a world of mischief. Anger discomposes us, and transports the soul into uncomely motions against God and men, making us fret, and tempting us to atheism (Psa. 73); making us weary in well doing (Psa. 37). The Devil works upon such discontent, and we are apt to run into these disorders. How shall we get rid of these distempers? By prayer, in which we get a sight of the other World, and then these things will seem nothing to us. Prayer acquaints ourselves with God and the process of His providence, and so we shall see an end of things (Psa. 73:17); then all is quiet. And so for revenge, that, too, is an effect of the former. When we plead before God we see the justice of what is unjust, and hard dealings from men to be justly inflicted by God; and so the heart is calmed—“the Lord bid him curse” (2 Sam. 16:11). Our very praying is a committing ourselves to Him that judges righteously, and therefore we ought not, we need not, avenge ourselves.
4. Impatience and despair. This is a very great evil, contrary to faith and hope and dependence, which the Christian religion does mainly establish; and makes way for the worst ends— either total apostasy from God, or atheism, or self-destruction. Now this is very detrimental to us when oppressions lie long upon us: “this evil is from the LORD; why should I wait on the LORD any longer?” (2 Kings 6:33). “But thou saidest, There is no hope” (Jer. 2:25). Desperate! “No, for I have loved strangers, and after them will I go”: I will take my own course: there is no hope—it is vain to wait upon the Lord any longer. And even if things do not grow to that height, yet the children of God become wary and faint in their minds (Heb. 12:3). Now we must keep afoot some hope while we have a heart to call upon God. The suit is still pending in the court of Heaven when it seems to be over on earth: and we see there is cause to wait for God’s answer. “He that shall come, will come” (Heb. 10:37). God may tarry long, but will never come too late.
“Deliver me from the oppression of man: so will I keep Thy precepts” (Psa. 119:134). But how is this to be asked? First, this is not to be asked as our main blessing: “seek ye first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33). If we seek our ease and temporal felicity only, that prayer is like a brutish cry: “And they have not cried unto Me with their heart, when they howled upon their beds” (Hosea 7:14). A dog will howl when he feels anything inconvenient. You will never be freed from murmuring and quarrelling at God’s dispensations and questioning His love, if this be the first thing that you seek; and so your prayers will become your snare. Besides the great dishonour to God, it argues the great disorder of your affections that you can be content to have anything apart from God: “Seek ye the LORD and His strength; seek His face evermore” (Psa. 105:4). In all conditions that must be our great request, that we may have the favour of God.
Second, it must be asked with submission. It is not absolutely promised, nor intrinsically and indispensably necessary to our happiness, but if the Lord sees fit for His own glory and our good. We cannot take it ill if a friend refuses to lend us a sum of money which he knows will be to our loss and detriment. God sees fit, sometimes, for His own glory and our good, to continue us under oppression, rather than take us out of it. There are two acts of Providence: relieving and comforting the oppressed, and punishing the oppressors. Sometimes God does the one without the other, sometimes both together. Sometimes God will only comfort the oppressed; we cry to Him in our afflictions, and God will not break the yoke but give us strength to bear it: “in the day when I cried Thou answeredst me, and hast strengthened me with strength in my soul” (Psa. 138:3). He gives you strength to bear the burden, if you continue in your integrity. Sometimes God does punish the oppressor, yet that is no relief to you. You must bear it, for you are to stand to God’s will and to wait His leisure to free you from it.
Third, your end must be that God may be glorified, and that you may serve Him more cheerfully. So it is in the text. And again, “Have mercy upon me, O LORD; consider my trouble which I suffer of them that hate me, Thou that liftest me up from the gates of death; that I may show forth all Thy praise in the gates of the daughter of Zion; and I will rejoice in Thy salvation” (Psa. 9:13, 14). David begs salvation in order to praise. Temporal mercy should not be loved for itself, nor sought for itself; but as we may glorify God by it: that is to be our end. Lord, I seek not my own interest, but Thine. If you have a carnal end, you miss: “Ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:3)— that ye may please the flesh.
Fourth, we must pray in faith, that God can deliver from the oppression of man, and will do so in due time, when it is good for us. Though our oppressors be ever so mighty, God can break their power, or change their heart. It is a great relief to the soul to consider the several ways that God has to right us. “Then had the churches rest...and were multiplied” etc., (Act. 9:31). When was that? When Paul was converted. He was an active instrument against the Church, and God turned his heart; then had the churches rest. Or the Lord may do it by determining their interests that they shall show favour to His people though their hearts be not changed: “when a man’s ways please the LORD, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Prov. 16:7). Please men, and you cannot say God is your Friend; but please God, and He makes your enemies at peace with you. There is much in the secret chain of Providence: see Daniel 1:9. God can break the yoke by raining judgments on them: see Isaiah 49:24, 25. Therefore we should not be disdiscouraged with unlikelihood when we go to God, who has many ways which poor shortsighted creatures cannot foresee.
God is ready to deliver us. The love which the Lord has for His afflicted people will not suffer His justice to be quiet very long. That God is ready to help and deliver will appear from these things. 1. It is His nature to pity and show mercy to the oppressed and to revenge the oppressor. He pities the afflictions of them that suffer justly, and far beneath their desert, from His own hand: “they put away the strange gods from among them, and served the LORD, and His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel” (Judg. 10:16 and cf. 2 Kings 14:26)—how much more will He pity them that are unworthily oppressed! And the Lord’s pitiful nature does incline Him to deliver His people: and when the oppressed cry, “I will hear them; for I am gracious” (Exo. 22:21-27).
2. It is His usual practice and custom: “the LORD executeth judgment and righteousness for all that are oppressed” (Psa. 103:6). If for all; surely for His people. He sits in Heaven to rectify the disorders of men: see Psalm 34:19. 3. It is His office as Judge of the world: “Lift up Thyself, Thou judge of the earth; render a reward to the proud” (Psa. 94:2). Look upon Him only in that notion, according to our natural conceptions, as the supreme cause and Judge of all things. Again, His office as Protector of His people: He is in covenant with them, He is their Sun and Shield, His people’s Refuge in time of trouble (Psa. 9:9), when they have none else to flee to.
Now for instruction to teach us what to do when we are oppressed. First, patience. It is the lot of God’s children to be often troubled with the world: and badly used. Satan is the ruler of the darkness of this world, and his subjects cannot endure those who would overturn his kingdom. The good are few, and therefore must look to be oppressed. If there be any breathing room it is God’s mercy. “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12 and cf. Gal. 4:29).
Second, let us be prepared to commend our cause to God: “LORD, Thou hast heard the desire of the humble; Thou wilt prepare their hearts, Thou wilt cause Thine ear to hear: to judge the fatherless and the oppressor that the man of the earth may no more oppress” (Psa. 10-17, 18). God prepares the hearts of the humble, How so? By continuing the trouble till they are sensible of the misery of the sin—of the cause. “I will go and return to My place, till they acknowledge their offenses and seek My face” (Hosea 5:15).
Third, when you have prayed, then wait. It is a good sign when we are engaged in prayer, and encouraged to wait. When God has a mind to work, He sets the spirit of prayer at work. How can our prayers be heard when we regard them not ourselves and expect no issue? How should God hear when we pray out of course and do not think our prayers worth the regarding? “I waited patiently for the LORD, He inclined unto me and heard my cry” (Psa. 40:1). “I will watch to see what He will say” (Hab. 2:1). Look for an answer: God does not usually disappoint a waiting people.
When God delivers us from the oppression of man we should be quickened and encouraged in His service. First, because every mercy infers an answerable duty: “But Hezekiah rendered not according to the benefit done unto him” (2 Chron. 32:25). There must be rendering according to the receiving. Second, this is the fittest return, partly because it is real, not verbal. The Lord cares not for words—He knows the secret springs of the heart: see Psalm 50:23. It is good to be speaking good of God’s name. This is one way of glorifying, but ordering the conversation aright is that which is most pleasing to Him. And partly, too, because our fear and sorrow are taken away: “I will run the way of Thy commandments when Thou shalt enlarge my heart” (Psa. 119:32 and see Luke 1:74, 75).
We are now under the sad effects of our former unthankfulness, and by remembering our duty we may see our sin. Ingratitude and walking unanswerably to received mercy is the great and crying sin of God’s people; therefore we should humble ourselves that we did so little good and that God had so little glory and service from us in former times of liberty. Now God by His present providence shows us the difference: “Because thou servedst not the LORD thy God with joyfulness and with gladness of heart for the abundance of all things, therefore thou shalt serve thine enemies” etc., (Deut. 28:47, 48 and see 2 Chron. 12:8). We must be humbled for the abuse of former mercies before we seek new.
Thus we may know (from the second part of our text) what to have in our eye when we are asking for mercies. The end is first in intention, though last in execution. Do not pray to serve thy lusts more freely, nor think how to execute revenge, nor how we should be provided for—but what glory and service we may bring to God: see Psalm 75:2. It also teaches us how to make our promises to God. When you promise duty and obedience to Him, be sure to be sincere and holy; make due provision that it may be so by mortifying the roots of such distempers as will betray us. When a people in a low condition have a real inclination to praise and glorify God by their mercies as soon as they shall receive them, it is an argument that He will hear.
Condensed by Arthur W. Pink. Originally edited by Emmett O'Donnell for Mt. Zion Publications, a ministry of Mt. Zion Bible Church, 2603 West Wright St., Pensacola, FL 32505. www.mountzion.org