Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 8: Psalms, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
This psalm teaches us upon what condition God made choice of the Jews to be his people, and placed his sanctuary in the midst of them. This condition was, that they should show themselves to be a peculiar and holy people, by leading a just and upright life.
A Song of David.
1. O Jehovah, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle? Who shall rest in the mountain of thy holiness? 2. He who walketh in integrity, and doeth righteousness, and who speaketh truth in his heart.
1. O Jehovah, who shall dwell in thy tabernacle? As nothing is more common in the world than falsely to assume the name of God, or to pretend to be his people, and as a great part of men allow themselves to do this without any apprehension of the danger it involves, David, without stopping to speak to men, addresses himself to God, which he considers the better course; and he intimates, that if men assume the title of the people of God, without being so in deed and in truth, they gain nothing by their self-delusion, for God continues always like himself, and as he is faithful himself, so will he have us to keep faith with him in return. No doubt, he adopted Abraham freely, but, at the same time, he stipulated with him that he should live a holy and an upright life, and this is the general rule of the covenant which God has, from the beginning, made with his Church. The sum is, that hypocrites, who occupy a place in the temple of God, in vain pretend to be his people, for he acknowledges none as such but those who follow after justice and uprightness during the whole course of their life. David saw the temple crowded with a great multitude of men who all made a profession of the same religion, and presented themselves before God as to the outward ceremony; and, therefore, assuming the person of one wondering at the spectacle, he directs his discourse to God, who, in such a confusion and medley of characters, could easily distinguish his own people from strangers.
There is a threefold use of this doctrine. In the first place, If we really wish to be reckoned among the number of the children of God, the Holy Ghost teaches us, that we must show ourselves to be such by a holy and an upright life; for it is not enough to serve God by outward ceremonies, unless we also live uprightly, and without doing wrong to our neighbors. In the second place, As we too often see the Church of God defaced by much impurity, to prevent us from stumbling at what appears so offensive, a distinction is made between those who are permanent citizens of the Church, and strangers who are mingled among them only for a time. This is undoubtedly a warning highly necessary, in order that when the temple of God happens to be tainted by many impurities, we may not contract such disgust and chagrin as will make us withdraw from it. By impurities I understand the vices of a corrupt and polluted life. Provided religion continue pure as to doctrine and worship, we must not be so much stumbled at the faults and sins which men commit, as on that account to rend the unity of the Church. Yet the experience of all ages teaches us how dangerous a temptation it is when we behold the Church of God, which ought to be free from all polluting stains, and to shine in uncorrupted purity, cherishing in her bosom many ungodly hypocrites, or wicked persons. From this the Catharists, Novatians, and Donatists, took occasion in former times to separate themselves from the fellowship of the godly. The Anabaptists, at the present day, renew the same schisms, because it does not seem to them that a church in which vices are tolerated can be a true church. But Christ, in Mt 25:32, justly claims it as his own peculiar office to separate the sheep from the goats; and thereby admonishes us, that we must bear with the evils which it is not in our power to correct, until all things become ripe, and the proper season of purging the Church arrive. At the same time, the faithful are here enjoined, each in his own sphere, to use their endeavors that the Church of God may be purified from the corruptions which still exist within her. And this is the third use which we should make of this doctrine. God’s sacred barn-floor will not be perfectly cleansed before the last day, when Christ at his coming will cast out the chaff; but he has already begun to do this by the doctrine of his gospel, which on this account he terms a fan. We must, therefore, by no means be indifferent about this matter; on the contrary, we ought rather to exert ourselves in good earnest, that all who profess themselves Christians may lead a holy and an unspotted life. But above all, what God here declares with respect to all the unrighteous should be deeply imprinted on our memory; namely, that he prohibits them from coming to his sanctuary, and condemns their impious presumption, in irreverently thrusting themselves into the society of the godly. David makes mention of the tabernacle, because the temple was not yet built. The meaning of his discourse, to express it in a few words, is this, that those only have access to God who are his genuine servants, and who live a holy life.
2. He that walketh in integrity. Here we should mark, that in the words there is an implied contrast between the vain boasting of those who are only the people of God in name, or who make only a bare profession of being so, which consists in outward observances, and this indubitable and genuine evidence of true godliness which David commends. But it might be asked, As the service of God takes precedence of the duties of charity towards our neighbors, why is there no mention here made of faith and prayer; for, certainly, these are the marks by which the genuine children of God ought to have been distinguished from hypocrites? The answer is easy: David does not intend to exclude faith and prayer, and other spiritual sacrifices; but as hypocrites, in order to promote their own interests, are not sparing in their attention to a multiplicity of external religious observances, while their ungodliness, notwithstanding, is manifested outwardly in the life, seeing they are fall of pride, cruelty, violence, and are given to deceitfulness and extortion, - the Psalmist, for the purpose of discovering and drawing forth into the light all who are of such a character, takes the marks and evidences of true and sincere faith from the second table of the law. According to the care which every man takes to practice righteousness and equity towards his neighbors, so does he actually show that he fears God. David, then, is not here to be understood as resting satisfied with political or social justice, as if it were enough to render to our fellow-men what is their own, while we may lawfully defraud God of his right; but he describes the approved servants of God, as distinguished and known by the fruits of righteousness which they produce. In the first place, he requires sincerity; in other words, that men should conduct themselves in all their affairs with singleness of heart, and without sinful craft or cunning. Secondly, he requires justice; that is to say, that they should study to do good to their neighbors, hurt nobody, and abstain from all wrong. Thirdly, he requires truth in their speech, so that they may speak nothing falsely or deceitfully. To speak in the heart is a strong figurative expression, but it expresses more forcibly David’s meaning than if he had said from the heart. It denotes such agreement and harmony between the heart and tongue, as that the speech is, as it were, a vivid representation of the hidden affection or feeling within.
3. He that slandereth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his companion, nor raiseth up a calumnious report against his neighbor.
David, after having briefly set forth the virtues with which all who desire to have a place in the Church ought to be endued, now enumerates certain vices from which they ought to be free. In the first place, he tells them that they must not be slanderers or detractors; secondly, that they must restrain themselves from doing any thing mischievous and injurious to their neighbors; and, thirdly, that they must not aid in giving currency to calumnies and false reports. Other vices, from which the righteous are free, we shall meet with as we proceed. David, then, sets down calumny and detraction as the first point of injustice by which our neighbors are injured. If a good name is a treasure, more precious than all the riches of the world, (Pr 22:1,) no greater injury can be inflicted upon men than to wound their reputation. It is not, however, every injurious word which is here condemned; but the disease and lust of detraction, which stirs up malicious persons to spread abroad calumnies. At the same time, it cannot be doubted that the design of the Holy Spirit is to condemn all false and wicked accusations. In the clause which immediately follows, the doctrine that the children of God ought to be far removed from all injustice, is stated more generally: Nor doeth evil to his companion. By the words companion and neighbor, the Psalmist means not only those with whom we enjoy familiar intercourse, and live on terms of intimate friendship, but all men, to whom we are bound by the ties of humanity and a common nature. He employs these terms to show more clearly the odiousness of what he condemns, and that the saints may have the greater abhorrence of all wrong dealing, since every man who hurts his neighbor violates the fundamental law of human society. With respect to the meaning of the last clause, interpreters are not agreed. Some take the phrase, to raise up a calumnious report, for to invent, because malicious persons raise up calumnies from nothing; and thus it would be a repetition of the statement contained in the first clause of the verse, namely, that good men should not allow themselves to indulge in detraction. But I think there is also here rebuked the vice of undue credulity, which, when any evil reports are spread against our neighbors, leads us either eagerly to listen to them, or at least to receive them without sufficient reason; whereas we ought rather to use all means to suppress and trample them under foot. 295 When any one is the bearer of invented falsehoods, those who reject them leave them, as it were, to fall to the ground; while, on the contrary, those who propagate and publish them from one person to another are, by an expressive form of speech, said to raise them up.
4. In his eyes the offcast [or reprobate 296 ] is despised; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord; when he hath sworn to his own hurt, he changeth not.
The first part of this verse is explained in different ways. Some draw from it this meaning, that the true servants of God are contemptible and worthless in their own estimation. If we adopt this interpretation, the copula and, which David does not express, must be supplied, making the reading thus, He is vile and despised in his own eyes. But besides the consideration, that, if this had been the sense, the words would probably have been joined together by the copula and, I have another reason which leads me to think that David had a different meaning, He compares together two opposite things, namely, to despise perverse and worthless characters, and to honor the righteous and those who fear God. In order that these two clauses may correspond with each other, the only sense in which I can understand what is here said about being despised is this, that the children of God despise the ungodly, and form that low and contemptuous estimate of them which their character deserves. The godly, it is true, although living a praiseworthy and virtuous life, are not inflated with presumption, but, on the contrary, are rather dissatisfied with themselves, because they feel how far short they are as yet of the perfection which is required. When, however, I consider what the scope of the passage demands, I do not think that we are here to view the Psalmist as commending humility or modesty, but rather a free and upright judgment of human character, by which the wicked, on the one hand, are not spared, while virtue, on the other, receives the honor which belongs to it; for flattery, which nourishes vices by covering them, is an evil not less pernicious than it is common. I indeed admit, that if the wicked are in authority, we ought not to carry our contempt of them the length of refusing to obey them in so far as a regard to our duty will permit; but, at the same time, we must beware of flattery and of accommodating ourselves to them, which would be to involve us in the same condemnation with them. He who not only seems to regard their wicked actions with indifference, but also honors them, shows that he approves of them as much as it is in his power. Paul therefore teaches us, (Eph 5:11,) that it is a species of fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness when we do not reprove them. It is certainly a very perverse way of acting, when persons, for the sake of obtaining the favor of men, will indirectly mock God; and all are chargeable with doing this who make it their business to please the wicked. David, however, has a respect, not so much to persons as to wicked works. The man who sees the wicked honored, and by the applause of the world rendered more obstinate in their wickedness, and who willingly gives his consent or approbation to this, does he not, by so doing, exalt vice to authority, and invest it with sovereign power? “But woe,” says the prophet Isaiah, (Isa 5:20,) “unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness.”
Nor ought it to be regarded as a rude or violent manner of speaking, when David calls base and wicked persons reprobates, although they may be placed in an exalted and honorable station. If (as Cicero affirms, in his book entitled The Responses of the Aruspices) the inspectors of the entrails of the sacrifices, and other heathen soothsayers, applied to worthless and abandoned characters the term rejected, although they excelled in dignity and riches, why should not a prophet of God be permitted to apply the name of degraded outcasts to all who are rejected by God? The meaning of the Psalmist, to express it in a few words, is, that the children of God freely judge of every man’s doings, and that for the purpose of obtaining the favor of men, they will not stoop to vile flattery, and thereby encourage the wicked in their wickedness.
What follows immediately after, namely, to honor the righteous and those who fear God, is no mean virtue. As they are often, as it were, the filth and the offscouring of all things in the estimation of the world, so it frequently happens that those who show them favor and sympathy, excite against themselves every where the hatred of the world. The greater part of mankind, therefore, refuse the friendship of good men, and leave them to be despised, which cannot be done without grievous and heinous injury to God. Let us learn then not to value men by their estate or their money, or their transitory honors, but to hold in estimation godliness, or the fear of God. And certainly no man will ever truly apply his mind to the study of godliness who does not, at the same time, reverence the servants of God; as, on the other hand, the love we bear to them incites us to imitate them in sanctity of life.
When he hath sworn to his own hurt. The translation of the LXX. would agree very well with the scope of the passage, were it not that the points which are under the words in the Hebrew text will not bear such a sense. 297 It is, indeed, no proof of the inaccuracy of their rendering, that it does not agree with the points; for, although the Jews have always used the points in reading, it is probable that they did not always express them in writing. I, however, prefer following the commonly received reading. And the meaning is, that the faithful will rather submit to suffer loss than break their word. When a man keeps his promises, in as far as he sees it to be for his own advantage, there is in this no argument to prove his uprightness and faithfulness. But when men make a promise to each other, there is nothing more common than from some slight loss which the performance of it would occasion, to endeavor to find a pretext for breaking their engagements. Every one considers with himself what is for his own advantage, and if it puts him to inconvenience or trouble to stand to his promises, he is ingenious enough to imagine that he will incur a far greater loss than there is any reason to apprehend. It seems, indeed, a fair excuse when a man complains that, if he does not depart from his engagement, he will suffer great loss. Hence it is, that we generally see so much unfaithfulness among men, that they do not consider themselves bound to perform the promises which they have made, except in so far as it will promote their own personal interest. David, therefore, condemning this inconstancy, requires the children of God to exhibit the greatest steadfastness in the fulfillment of their promises. Here the question might be asked, If a man, having fallen into the hands of a highwayman, promise him a sum of money to save his life, and if, in consequence of this, he is let go, should he in that case keep his promise? Again, if a man has been basely deceived, in entering into a contract, is it lawful for him to break the oath which he shall have made in such an engagement? With respect to the highwayman, he who confers upon him money falls into another fault, for he supports at his own expense a common enemy of mankind to the detriment of the public welfare. David does not impose upon the faithful such an alternative as this, but only enjoins them to show a greater regard to their promises than to their own personal interests, and to do this especially when their promises have been confirmed by an oath. As to the other case, namely, when a person has sworn, from being deceived and imposed upon by wicked artifice he ought certainly to hold the holy name of God in such veneration, as rather patiently to submit to loss than violate his oath. Yet it is perfectly lawful for him to discover or reveal the fraud which has been practiced upon him, provided he is not led to do so by a regard to his own personal interest; and there is, besides, nothing to hinder him from peaceably endeavoring to compromise the matter with his adversary. Many of the Jewish expositors restrict this passage to vows, as if David exhorted the faithful to perform their vows when they have promised to humble and afflict themselves by fasting. But in this they are mistaken. Nothing is farther from his meaning than this, for he discourses here only of the second table of the law, and of the mutual rectitude which men should maintain in their dealings with one another.
5. He putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh bribes upon the innocent. He that doeth these things shall not be moved for ever.
In this verse David enjoins the godly neither to oppress their neighbors by usury, nor to suffer themselves to be corrupted with bribes to favor unrighteous causes. With respect to the first clause, as David seems to condemn all kinds of usury in general, and without exception, the very name has been every where held in detestation. But crafty men have invented specious names under which to conceal the vice; and thinking by this artifice to escape, they have plundered with greater excess than if they had lent on usury avowedly and openly. God, however, will not be dealt with and imposed upon by sophistry and false pretences. He looks upon the thing as it really is. There is no worse species of usury than an unjust way of making bargains, where equity is disregarded on both sides. Let us then remember that all bargains in which the one party unrighteously strives to make gain by the loss of the other party, whatever name may be given to them, are here condemned. It may be asked, Whether all kinds of usury are to be put into this denunciation, and regarded as alike unlawful? If we condemn all without distinction, there is a danger lest many, seeing themselves brought into such a strait, as to find that sin must be incurred, in whatever way they can turn themselves, may be rendered bolder by despair, and may rush headlong into all kinds of usury, without choice or discrimination. On the other hand, whenever we concede that something may be lawfully done this way, many will give themselves loose reins, thinking that a liberty to exercise usury, without control or moderation, has been granted them. In the first place, therefore, I would, above all things, counsel my readers to beware of ingeniously contriving deceitful pretexts, by which to take advantage of their fellow-men, and let them not imagine that any thing can be lawful to them which is grievous and hurtful to others.
With respect to usury, it is scarcely possible to find in the world a usurer who is not at the same time an extortioner, and addicted to unlawful and dishonorable gain. Accordingly, Cato 298 of old justly placed the practice of usury and the killing of men in the same rank of criminality, for the object of this class of people is to suck the blood of other men. It is also a very strange and shameful thing, that, while all other men obtain the means of their subsistence with much toil, while husbandmen fatigue themselves by their daily occupations, and artisans serve the community by the sweat of their brow, and merchants not only employ themselves in labors, but also expose themselves to many inconveniences and dangers, — that money-mongers should sit at their ease without doing any thing, and receive tribute from the labor of all other people. Besides, we know that generally it is not the rich who are exhausted by their usury, 299 but poor men, who ought rather to be relieved. It is not, therefore, without cause that God has, in Lev. 25:35, 36, forbidden usury, adding this reason, “And if thy brother be waxen poor and fallen in decay with thee, then thou shalt relieve him; take thou no usury of him or increase.” We see that the end for which the law was framed was, that men should not cruelly oppress the poor, who ought rather to receive sympathy and compassion. 300 This was, indeed, a part of the judicial law which God appointed for the Jews in particular; but it is a common principle of justice which extends to all nations and to all ages, that we should keep ourselves from plundering and devouring the poor who are in distress and want, Whence it follows, that the gain which he who lends his money upon interest acquires, without doing injury to any one, is not to be included under the head of unlawful usury. The Hebrew word נשך, neshek, which David employs, being derived from another word, which signifies to bite, sufficiently shows that usuries are condemned in so far as they involve in them or lead to a license of robbing and plundering our fellow-men. Ezekiel, indeed, Eze 18:17, and Eze 22:12, seems to condemn the taking of any interest whatever upon money lent; but he doubtless has an eye to the unjust and crafty arts of gaining, by which the rich devoured the poor people. In short, provided we had engraven on our hearts the rule of equity, which Christ prescribes in Mt 7:12,
“Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them,”
it would not be necessary to enter into lengthened disputes concerning usury.
What next follows in the text properly applies to judges who, being corrupted by presents and rewards, pervert all law and justice. It may, however, be extended farther, inasmuch as it often happens, that even private individuals are corrupted by bribes to favor and defend bad causes. David, therefore, comprehends, in general, all those corruptions by which we are led away from truth and uprightness. Some think that what is here intended is the rapacity of judges in extorting money from the innocent who are accused, as the price of their deliverance, when they ought rather to have protected and assisted them gratuitously. But it appears from the passages similar to this in Ezekiel, which we have quoted, that the sense is different.
He who doeth these things. This conclusion warns us again, that all who thrust themselves into the sanctuary of God are not permanent citizens of “the holy Jerusalem which is above;” 301 but that hypocrites, and all who falsely assume the title of saints, shall at length be “cast out” with Ishmael whom they resemble. That which is ascribed in Psalm 46, to the whole Church, David here applies to every one of the faithful: He shall not be moved for ever. The reason of this which is there expressed is, because God dwells in the midst of Jerusalem. On the contrary, we know that he is far from the perfidious and the wicked, who approach him only with the mouth, and with reigned lips.
“Et mettre sous le pied.” — Fr.
“Meschant, ou vilein et abominable.” — Note, Fr. marg. “The wicked, or the vile and abominable.”
“The LXX., instead of להרע, [lehara,] to hurt, seem to have read להרע, [leharea,] to his fellow, for they render it, τῷ πλησίον αὐτου, to his neighbor, and so the Syriac, and Latin, and Arabic, and Ethiopic.” — Hammond. This rendering agrees very well with the scope of the Psalm, which relates to our dealing justly with our fellow-men; and it represents the good man as scrupulously performing the promissory oaths which he makes to his neighbor. But the ordinary reading, he sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not, sets forth the moral integrity of the good man in a still more striking light, by describing him as performing his oath in the face of the greatest temptations to break it, when the performance of it may prove detrimental to his own interests; and this is no mean trial of a man’s virtue.
“C’estoit un personnage Romain de grande reputation.” — Fr. marg. “This was a Roman personage of great reputation.” - See Cicero de Officiis, Lib. 2, cap. 25.
“Ce ne sont pas les riches lesquels on mange d’usures.” — Fr. “It is not the rich whom they devour by usuries.”
The Jews were prohibited by the law from taking usury or interest on money lent to their brethren, but not on what was lent to strangers; that is, foreigners of other countries, (De 23:20.) The manifest design of this prohibition was, to promote humane and fraternal sentiments in the bosoms of the Israelites towards each other. A more remote end seems also to have been aimed at, viz., to check the formation of a commercial character among the Jews, and to confine them as much as possible to those agricultural and private pursuits, which would seclude them from intercourse with the surrounding nations, as it was not very likely that a practice of this nature would be extended much among foreigners which was prohibited at home.” — Walford’s New Translation of the Book of Psalms.
“De la sainete Jerusalem celeste.” — Fr.