Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 8: Psalms, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
David being grievously oppressed by the cruelty of his enemies, and apprehending still more mischief, earnestly beseeches God for help. And the more easily to obtain what he asks, after having, by the earnestness of his prayers, manifested the greatness of his grief, he first brings forward the intolerable malice of his enemies, showing how inconsistent it would be with the character of God, were they to be left unpunished. He next speaks of his own faith and patience, and even comfort; having no doubt whatever of a happy issue. Finally, he concludes, that when he shall be delivered, the benefits resulting from his deliverance would not be limited to himself, but would extend to all the godly.
To the chief musician upon Nehiloth. A psalm of David.
Some translate the Hebrew word Nehiloth, heritages, and others, armies. The former assign this reason for their opinion, that David prayed for the welfare of the twelve tribes, whom he calls heritages. 64 The latter assert in support of their view, that being besieged by a vast multitude of men, he betook himself to God for succor; and, according to this sense, the word upon will signify against. But not approving of the conjectures of many who speak upon these inscriptions of The Psalms as if they were riddles, 65 I adopt the opinion of those who hold that it was either a musical instrument or a tune; but of what particular kind I consider it of little importance to ascertain.
1. Give ear unto my words, O Jehovah; attend to my speech. 2. Hearken to the voice of my cry, my King and my God: for unto thee will I pray.
I presume not positively to determine whether David, in this psalm, bewails the wrongs which he suffered from his enemies at some particular time, or whether he complains generally of the various persecutions with which, for a long time, he was harassed under Saul. Some of the Jewish commentators apply the psalm even to Absalom; because, by the bloody and deceitful man, they think Doeg and Ahithophel are pointed out. To me, however, it appears more probable, that when David, after the death of Saul, had got peaceable possession of the kingdoms he committed to writing the prayers which he had meditated in his afflictions and dangers. But to come to the words:— First, he expresses one thing in three different ways; and this repetition denotes the strength of his affection, and his long perseverance in prayer. For he was not so fond of many words as to employ different forms of expression, which had no meaning; but being deeply engaged in prayer, he represented, by these various expressions, the variety of his complaints. 66 It therefore signifies, that he prayed neither coldly nor only in few words; but that, according as the vehemence of his grief urged him, he was earnest in bewailing his calamities before God; and that since it did not immediately appear what would be their issue, he persevered in repeating the same complaints. Again, he does not expressly state what he desires to ask from God: 67 but there is a greater force in this kind of suppression, than if he had spoken distinctly. By not uttering the desires of his heart, he shows more emphatically that his inward feelings, which he brought with him before God, were such that language was insufficient to express them. Again, the word cry, which signifies a loud and sonorous utterance of the voice, serves to mark the earnestness of his desire. David did not cry out as it were into the ears of one who was deaf; but the vehemence of his grief and his inward anguish, burst forth into this cry. The verb הגהhagah, from which the noun הגיג, hagig, speech, which the prophet here uses, is derived, means both to speak distinctly, and to whisper or to mutter. But the second sense seems better suited to this passage. 68 After David has said in general, that God hears his words, he seems, immediately after, for the purpose of being more specific, to divide them into two kinds, calling the one obscure or indistinct moanings, and the other loud crying. 69 By the first he means a confused muttering, such as is described in the Song of Hezekiah, when sorrow hindered him from speaking distinctly, and making his voice to be heard. “Like a crane, or a swallow, so did I chatter; I did mourn as a dove,” (Isa 38:14.) 70 If, then, at any time we are either backward to pray, or our devout affections begin to lose their fervor, we must here seek for arguments to quicken and urge us forward. And as by calling God his King and his God, he intended to stir up himself to entertain more lively and favorable hopes with respect to the issue of his afflictions, let us learn to apply these titles to a similar use, namely, for the purpose of making ourselves more familiar with God. At the close, he testifies that he does not sullenly gnaw the bit, as unbelievers are accustomed to do; but directs his groaning to God: for they who, disregarding God, either fret inwardly or utter their complaints to men, are not worthy of being regarded by him. Some translate the last clause thus, When I pray to thee; but to me it seems rather to be the reason which David assigns for what he had said immediately before, and that his purpose is, to encourage himself to trust in God, by assuming this as a general principle that whoever call upon God in their calamities never meet with a repulse from him.
3. O that thou wouldst hear my voice in the morning; O Jehovah, in the morning will I direct unto thee, and I will keep watch.
The first sentence may also be read in the future tense of the indicative mood, Thou shalt hear my prayer. But, in my opinion, the verb is rather in the optative mood, as I have translated it. Having besought God to grant his requests, he now entreats him to make haste. Some think he alludes to the morning prayers which were wont to be joined with the daily sacrifices in the temple, according to the appointment of the law. Although I do not disapprove of this opinion, yet I have no doubt but that, constrained by the weariness of a somewhat lengthened delay, he wishes his deliverance to be hastened; as if he had said, “As soon as I awaken this will be the first subject of my thoughts. Therefore, O Lord, delay no longer the help of which I stand in need, but grant immediately my desires.” The expression, To direct unto God, I take to signify the same thing as directly to approach to God. Many, as if the language were elliptical, supply the words, my prayer. But in my judgment, David rather intends to declare that he was not turned hither and thither, nor drawn different ways by the temptations to which he was exposed, but that to betake himself to God was the settled order of his life. There is, in the words, an implied contrast between the rambling and uncertain movements of those who look around them for worldly helps, or depend on their own counsels and the direct leading of faith, by which all the godly are withdrawn from the vain allurements of the world, and have recourse to God alone. The Hebrew word ערך, arac, signifies to set in order or dispose, and sometimes to dress or make fit. This sense is very suitable to the passage, in which David plainly declares it to be his determination not to be drawn away in any degree from his orderly course into the indirect and circuitous paths of error and sin, but to come directly to God. By the word, watch, he conveys the idea of hope and patience as well as of anxiety. As צפה, tsapah, in Hebrew means, to wait for, as well as to look for, David, I have no doubt, intended to say, that after he had disburdened his cares into the bosom of God, he would, with an anxious mind, look out, as it were, like a sentinel, until it should appear, that in very deed God had heard him. No doubt, in the exercise of longing, there is always implied some degree of uneasiness; but he who is looking out for the grace of God with anxious desire, will patiently wait for it. This passages therefore, teaches us the uselessness of those prayers to which there is not added that hope which may be said to elevate the minds of the petitioners into a watch-tower.
4. For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness; 71 evil shall not dwell Smith thee. 5. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight; thou hatest all that commit iniquity. 6. Thou shalt destroy them that speak falsehood; Jehovah will abhor the blood-thirsty 72 and deceitful man.
Here David makes the malice and wickedness of his enemies an argument to enforce his prayer for the divine favor towards him. The language is indeed abrupt, as the saints in prayer will often stammer; but this stammering is more acceptable to God than all the figures of rhetoric, be they ever so fine and glittering. Besides, the great object which David has in view, is to show, that since the cruelty and treachery of his enemies had reached their utmost height, it was impossible but that God would soon arrest them in their course. His reasoning is grounded upon the nature of God. Since righteousness and upright dealing are pleasing to him, David, from this, concludes that he will take vengeance on all the unjust and wicked. And how is it possible for them to escape from his hand unpunished, seeing he is the judge of the world? The passage is worthy of our most special attention. For we know how greatly we are discouraged by the unbounded insolence of the wicked. If God does not immediately restrain it, we are either stupified and dismayed, or cast down into despair. But David, from this, rather finds matter of encouragement and confi-dence. The greater the lawlessness with which his enemies proceeded against him, the more earnestly did he supplicate preservation from God, whose office it is to destroy all the wicked, because he hates all wickedness. Let all the godly, therefore, learn, as often as they have to contend against violence, deceit, and injustice, to raise their thoughts to God in order to encourage themselves in the certain hope of deliverance, according as Paul also exhorts them in 2Th 1:5, “Which is,” says he, “a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled, rest with us.” And assuredly he would not be the judge of the world if there were not laid up in store with him a recompense for all the ungodly. One use, then, which may be made of this doctrine is this, — when we see the wicked indulging themselves in their lusts, and when, in consequence, doubts steal into our minds as to whether God takes any care of us, we should learn to satisfy ourselves with the consideration that God, who hates and abhors all iniquity, will not permit them to pass unpunished, and although he bear with them for a time, he will at length ascend into the judgment-seat, and show himself an avenger, as he is the protector and defender of his people. 73 Again, we may infer from this passage the common doctrine, that God, although he works by Satan and by the ungodly, and makes use of their malice for executing his judgments, is not, on this account, the author of sin, nor is pleased with it because the end which he purposes is always righteous; and he justly condemns and punishes those who, by his mysterious providence, are driven whithersoever he pleases.
In the 4th verse some take רע, ra, in the masculine gender, for a wicked man; but I understand it rather of wickedness itself David declares simply, that there is no agreement between God and unrighteousness. He immediately after proceeds to speak of the men themselves, saying, the foolish shall not stand in thy sight; and it is a very just inference from this, that iniquity its hateful to God, and that, therefore, he will execute just punishment upon all the wicked. He calls those fools, according to a frequent use of the term in Scripture, who, impelled by blind passion, rush headlong into sin. Nothing is more foolish, than for the ungodly to cast away the fear of God, and suffer the desire of doing mischief to be their ruling principle; yea, there is no madness worse than the contempt of God, under the influence of which men pervert all right. David sets this truth before himself for his own comfort; but we also may draw from it doctrine very useful in training us to the fear of God; for the Holy Spirit, by declaring God to be the avenger of wickedness, puts a bridle upon us, to restrain us from committing sin, in the vain hope of escaping with impunity.
7. And I, in the multitude [or abundance] of thy mercy, will enter into thy house; I will worship in thy holy temple in thy fear.
Some think that the word and, by which this sentence is joined to the preceding, is put for but; as if David, comparing himself with the ungodly, declared and assured himself that God would be merciful to him, while he abhorred and would destroy the wicked. But I leave it to my readers to judge whether it does not suit the passage better to consider this verse as an inference from what goes before, which might be put in this form: ”O Lord, thou canst not bear with the wicked; when, therefore, I am saved out of their hands by thy power, I will come to present myself before thee in thy temple, to give thee thanks for the deliverance which thou hast vouchsafed to me.” If the former interpretation be preferred, then the prophet, by simply commending his own piety towards God, separates himself from the class of whom he spoke. The scope of the passage leads us to understand him as promising to give thanks to God. He had before spoken of his enemies as hated of God; and now, being persuaded that God will keep him in safety, he calls himself to the exercise of gratitude. I will come into thy temples says he, in the multitude of thy mercy; as if he had said, I may now seem to be in a condition almost desperate, but by the favor of God, I shall be kept in perfect safety. This passage, therefore, teaches us, that when we are afflicted by the most distressing temptations, we ought to set the grace of God before our eyes, in order thereby to be supported with the hope of the divine interposition amidst the greatest dangers. Farther, as our carnal minds either wickedly undervalue the grace of God, or put the low estimate upon it which is commonly put by the world, let us learn to extol its wonderful greatness, which is sufficient to enable us to overcome all fears. The primary object of David was to encourage himself in the assured hope of preservation from the mercy of God; but at the same time he shows, that upon obtaining deliverance, he will be grateful to God for it, and keep it in remembrance. And as hypocrites, in giving thanks to God, do nothing else but profane his name, inasmuch as they themselves are unholy and polluted, he therefore resolves to come in the fear of God, in order to worship him with a sincere and upright heard. Again, we may hence draw the general truth, that it is only through the goodness of God that we have access to him; and that no man prays aright but he who, having experienced his grace, believes and is fully persuaded that he will be merciful to him. The fear of God is at the same time added, in order to distinguish genuine and godly trust from the vain confidence of the flesh.
8. O Jehovah, lead me forth in thy righteousness, because of mine adversaries: make thy way straight before my face. 9. For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward parts are very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they deal deceitfully 10. Cause them to err, O God; let them fall from their counsels; destroy them in the multitude 74 of their transgressions; for they have rebelled against thee.
8. O Jehovah, lead me forth, etc. Some explain these words thus: Show me what is right, and make me wholly devoted to the practice of that righteousness which adorns thy character; and do this because of my adversaries; for the saints, impelled by the wicked practice and deceitful arts of the ungodly, are in danger of turning aside from the right way. This meaning is unquestionably a pious and a useful one. But the other interpretation is more suitable, which views the words as a prayer that God would lead his servant in safety through the midst of the snares of his enemies, and open up to him a way of escape, even when, to all appearance, he was caught and surrounded on every side. The righteousness of God, therefore, in this passage, as in many others, is to be understood of his faithfulness and mercy which he shows in defending and preserving his people. Consequently, in thy righteousness means the same thing as for or according to thy righteousness. David, desiring to have God as the guide of his path, encourages himself in the hope of obtaining his request, because God is righteous; as if he had said, Lord, as thou art righteous, defend me with thine aid, that I may escape from the wicked plots of my enemies. Of the same import is the last clause of the verse, where he prays that the way of God may be made straight before his face, in other words, that he might be delivered by the power of God from the distresses with which he was so completely surrounded, that, according to the judgment of the flesh, he never expected to find a way of escape. And thus he acknowledges how impossible it was for him to avoid being entangled in the snares of his enemies, 75 unless God both gave him wisdom, and opened up for him a way where no way is. It becomes us, after his example, to do the same thing; so that distrusting ourselves when counsel fails us, and the malice and wickedness of our enemies prevail, we may betake ourselves speedily to God, in whose hands are the issues of death, as we shall see afterwards, (Ps 69:1.)
9. For there is no faithfulness in their mouth. He still repeats the same complaints which he made before, in order thereby to render his enemies the more odious in the sight of God, and to call forth in his own behalf the mercy of God, who has promised to succor those who are unjustly oppressed. And this is to be particularly attended to, that the more our enemies manifest their cruelty against us, or the more wickedly they vex us, we ought, with so much the greater confidence, to send up our groanings to heaven, because God will not suffer their rage to proceed to the uttermost, but will bring forth their malice and wicked devices to the light. In the first place, he accuses them of treachery, because they speak nothing uprightly, or in sincerity; and the cause which he assigns for this is, that inwardly they are full of iniquity. He next compares them to sepulchres, their throat is an open sepulcher; as if he had said, they are devouring gulfs; 76 meaning by this, their insatiable desire of shedding blood. In the close of the verse, he again speaks of their deceitfulness. From all this we conclude, that the wrongs with which he was tried were of no ordinary kind, but that he had to contend with enemies the most wickedly who had neither humanity nor moderation. Being so miserably oppressed, he not only perseveres in prayer, but finds ground of hope even from the confusion and apparent hopelessness of his outward condition.
When Paul, (Ro 3:13,) in quoting this passage, extends it to all mankind, both Jews and Gentiles, he does not give to it a meaning of greater latitude than the Holy Spirit intended to give. Since he takes it as an undeniable point, that under the person of David, there is here described to us the church, both in the person of Christ, who is the head, and in his members, it follows that all those ought to be reckoned among the number of his enemies, who have not been regenerated by the Spirit of God, whether they are without the pale of the visible church, or within it. For David, in this passage, does not summons either the Assyrians or the Egyptians to the judgment-seat of God, but the degenerate Jews, who, being circumcised in the flesh, gloried in their descent from the holy lineage of Abraham. Paul, therefore, does not wrest these words from their genuine meaning when he applies them to all mankind, but asserts, with truth, that David showed in them what is the character of the whole human family by nature.
10. Cause them to err. As the Hebrew word אשם asam, signifies to cut up or to destroy, as well as to sin, and is taken metaphorically for to err, or be deceived, either of these senses is suitable in this passage; but, as David immediately after subjoins, Let them fall from their counsels, I have no doubt but this first prayer is allied and similar to the second. I therefore join these two clauses together, as the cause and the effect. In the first, he prays that God would deprive them of their understanding, and drive them into error; and in the second, he prays that, as the effect of this, their counsels might come to nought, in other words, that their undertakings might prove unsuccessful. 77 For how is it that the ungodly take counsel in vain, and are carried hither and thither without consideration or judgment, and become so basely obstinate, if it is not because the Lord takes them unawares in their own craftiness, breaks their artful schemes, intoxicates them with the spirit of phrenzy and giddiness, so that they act foolishly even in the smallest matters? If, therefore, we are afraid of the snares and deceits of men, and if we find those who desire to do us mischief to be clear-headed and sharp-witted persons, let us remember, that it is the continual office of God to strike with stupidity and madness those who are wise to commit iniquity. Thus it will come to pass, that although we may be asleep the Lord will dissipate with the breath of his mouth their devices, be they never so subtle, and, in the end, expose them to the mockery of the whole world. In short, David wishes God to lay his hand upon his enemies, and to put a stop to their wicked deliberations. And in fact it is necessary that God bring to nothing the schemes which the wicked cunningly devise, since it is Satan, the contriver of all deceits, who suggests to them all their methods of doing mischief. By praying Let them fall from their counsels he means that they may not obtain or accomplish what they had determined. Again, he prays to God to punish them as they deserved, because, in wrongfully and wickedly making war against an innocent person, they rebelled against God. The proud, indeed, never think of this, that the poor, whom they afflict and despise, are of such estimation in the sight of God, that he feels himself insulted and injured in their persons: for they do not imagine that the blows aimed at them are struck against heaven, any more than if they trampled a little dust or clay under their feet. But God bestows upon his servants the inestimable reward of taking their cause into his own hand. Whoever, therefore, has an approving conscience, and does not turn aside from his uprightness, although troubled wrongfully, has no reason to doubt of his warrant to improve God as a buckler against his enemies.
11. And let all rejoice who put their trust in thee, yea, let them rejoice for ever; and cover thou them, and let those that love thy name delight in thee. 78 12. For thou, O Jehovah, shalt bless the righteous, thou shalt encompass them with thy loving kindness as with a shield.
11. And let all rejoice, etc It makes little difference as to the sense, whether we read these words in the future tense, All shall rejoice, etc., or in the optative mood, Let all rejoice, etc.; for in both ways the meaning of the prophet will be the same; namely, that if God deliver him, the fruit of this deliverance will be common to all the godly; as if he had said Lord, if thou succourest me, the goodness which thou conferrest upon me will not rest on me alone, but will extend to all thy servants: for this will serve the more to confirm their faith, and make them praise thy name the more. In order, therefore, to induce God to grant him deliverance, he employs as an argument the end or effect which it would produce, inasmuch as it would stir up all the godly to exercise greater trust in God, and encourage them to give praise and thanks to him. This passage teaches us, that we are ungrateful to God if we do not take encouragement and comfort from whatever blessings he confers upon our neighbours, since by these he testifies that he will always be ready to bestow his goodness upon all the godly in common. Accordingly the reason of this joy is added, because the Lord will cover or protect them. As often as God bestows any blessings upon any of the faithful, the rest, as I have said before, ought to conclude that he will show himself beneficent towards them. Again, this passage teaches us, that true joy proceeds from no other source than from the protection of God. We may be exposed to a thousand deaths, but this one consideration ought abundantly to suffice us, that we are covered and defended by the hand of God. And this will be the case, if the vain shadows of this world do not so beguile us as to excite us to take shelter under them. We ought also particularly to notice the statement, that those who trust in the Lord love his name. The remembrance of God must be sweet to us, and fill our hearts with joy, or rather ravish us with love to him, after he has caused us to taste of his goodness; as, on the other hand, all unbelievers wish the name of God to be buried, and shun the remembrance of him with horror.
12. For thou, Jehovah, wilt bless the righteous. The Psalmist here confirms the concluding sentence of the preceding verse, namely, that all the servants of God in common will take support to their faith from what he had experienced, for he would have us from one example to form our judgment of the immutability and perpetuity of God’s grace towards all the godly. Again, by this he teaches us that there is no true and right joy but that which is derived from the sense of God’s fatherly love. The word, to bless, in Hebrew, (when we speak of this as the act of men,) signifies to wish happiness and prosperity to any one, and to pray for him; 79 but when it is spoken of as the act of God, it signifies the same thing as to prosper a man, or to enrich him abundantly with all good things; for since the favor of God is efficacious, his blessing of itself produces an abundance of every good thing. The name righteous is not restricted to any one man, but signifies in general all the servants of God. Those, however, who are called righteous in Scripture, are not so called on account of the merit of their works, but because they aspire after righteousness; for after God has received them into his favor, by not imputing their sins to them, he accepts their upright endeavors for perfect righteousness. What follows is of the same import as the preceding clause, Thou wilt crown them with thy free favor, or good will, as with a shield The Psalmist’s meaning is, that the faithful shall be completely defended on all sides, since he will, in no case, withhold from them his grace, which is to them an invincible fortress, and brings along with it certain safety. The word, to crown, which the Psalmist employs, often denotes in Hebrew, ornament or glory; but as there is added the similitude of a shield, I have no doubt but he uses it metaphorically for, to fortify or to compass about. 80 The meaning, therefore, is, that however great and various may be the dangers which besiege the righteous, they shall, notwithstanding, escape, and be saved, because God is favorable to them.
“Qu’il appelle Heritages.” — Fr.
“Mais pource que je n’approuve point ce que devinent plusieurs parlans comme par enigmes sur ces inscriptions des Pseaumes.” — Fr.
“Il a aussi represente et exprime ses gemissemens qui estoyent en grand nombre et de beaucoup de sortes.” — Fr.
“Ce qu’il vent requerir a Dieu.” —Fr.
Bishop Horne beautifully renders the word, “dove-like mournings,” and Bishop Horsley, “sighing.” “The word,” says Hammond, “regularly signifies sighing or cry, not a loud, sonorous voice, but such as complaints are made in.”
“Il semble que puis apres, pour mieux specifier, it en met deux sortes appelant les unes Complaintes obscures, et les autres Cri.” — Fr.
“Quand la douleur l’empesche de parler distinctement et faire entendre sa voix.” — Fr.
“Ou le mauvais.” — Fr. Marg. “Or the wicked.”
The words in the original are איש דמים, ish damim, literally, the man of bloods. The plural number is used, probably to teach us, that the man who thirsts for human blood is rarely satisfied with one victim.
“Comme il est protecteur et defenseur des siens.” — Fr.
“Pour la multitude.”—Fr. “For the multitude.”
“Par ainsi il confesse n’avoir ne dexterite ne force, ne mesme aucun moyen pour eviter les embusches des ennemis.” — Fr. “Thus he confesses that he has neither skill nor power, nor any means whatever, by which to avoid the snares of his enemies.”
“Gouffres qui devorent tout.” — Fr. “Gulfs which devour all.”
“C’est a dire, ne vienent a bout de leurs enterprises.” — Fr.
In the older Latin editions, and in the French edition, the verbs for rejoice and delight are rendered, on the margin, in the future tense, thus:— “And all who trust in thee shall rejoice; yea, they shall rejoice for ever; and cover thou them, and those that love thy name shall delight in thee.”
“Signifie, souhaitter bien et prosperite a quelquun et prier pour luy.” — Fr.
Bishop Horsley thinks כצנה, katsinah, as with a shield, should be construed with רצונ ratson, favor or good will, and translates the words thus: ”Like a shield of good will, thou wilt stand guard around him.” The reading of the Septuagint is the same: Ως ὁπλω εὐδοκιας, as with a shield of good will. The word צנה tsinah, means that kind of shield, from the middle of which there arose a large boss, surmounted by a dagger and which was highly useful both as a defensive and an offensive weapon in ancient warfare.