Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 8: Psalms, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
In the beginning David commends himself to the protection of God. He then meditates upon the benefits which he received from God, and thereby stirs himself up to thanksgiving. By his service, it is true, he could in no respect be profitable to God, but he, notwithstanding, surrenders and devotes himself entirely to him, protesting that he will have nothing to do with superstitions. He also states the reason of this to be, that full and substantial happiness consists in resting in God alone, who never suffers his own people to want any good thing.
Mictam of David.
As to the meaning of the word mictam, the Jewish expositors are not of one mind. Some derive it from כתם, catham, 302 as if it were a golden crest or jewel. Others think it is the beginning of a song, which at that time was very common. To others it seems rather to be some kind of tune, and this opinion I am inclined to adopt.
1. Keep [or guard 303 ] me, O God; for in thee do I trust. 304
This is a prayer in which David commits himself to the protection of God. He does not, however, here implore the aid of God, in some particular emergency, as he often does in other psalms, but he beseeches him to show himself his protector during the whole course of his life, and indeed our safety both in life and in death depends entirely upon our being under the protection of God. What follows concerning trust, signifies much the same thing as if the Holy Spirit assured us by the mouth of David, that God is ready to succor all of us, provided we rely upon him with a sure and steadfast faith; and that he takes under his protection none but those who commit themselves to him with their whole heart. At the same time, we must be reminded that David, supported by this trust, continued firm and unmoved amidst all the storms of adversity with which he was buffeted.
2. Thou shalt say unto Jehovah, Thou art my Lord, my well-doing extendeth not unto thee. 3. Unto the saints who are on the earth, and to the excellent; all my delight is in them.
2. Thou shalt say unto Jehovah. David begins by stating that he can bestow nothing upon God, not only because God stands in no need of any thing, but also because mortal man cannot merit the favor of God by any service which he can perform to him. At the same time, however, he takes courage, and, as God accepts our devotion, and the service which we yield to him, David protests that he will be one of his servants. To encourage himself the more effectually to this duty he speaks to his own soul; for the Hebrew word which is rendered Thou shalt say, is of the feminine gender, which can refer only to the soul. 305 Some may prefer reading the word in the past tense, Thou hast said, which I think is unobjectionable, for the Psalmist is speaking of an affliction which had a continued abode in his soul. The import of his language is, I am, indeed, fully convinced in my heart, and know assuredly, that God can derive no profit or advantage from me; but notwithstanding this, I will join myself in fellowship with the saints, that with one accord we may worship him by the sacrifices of praise. Two things are distinctly laid down in this verse. The first is, that God has a right to require of us whatever he pleases, seeing we are wholly bound to Him as our rightful proprietor and Lord. David, by ascribing to him the power and the dominion of Lord, declares that both himself and all he possessed are the property of God. The other particular contained in this verse is, the acknowledgement which the Psalmist makes of his own indigence. My well-doing extendeth not unto thee. Interpreters expound this last clause in two ways. As עליך, aleyka, may be rendered upon thee, some draw from it this sense, that God is not brought under obligation, or in the least degree indebted to us, by any good deeds which we may perform to him; and they understand the term goodness in a passive sense, as if David affirmed that whatever goodness he received from God did not proceed from any obligation he had laid God under, or from any merit which he possessed. But I think the sentence has a more extensive meaning, namely, that let men strive ever so much to lay themselves out for God, yet they can bring no advantage to him. Our goodness extendeth not to him, not only because, having in himself alone an all-sufficiency, he stands in need of nothing, 306 but also because we are empty and destitute of all good things, and have nothing with which to show ourselves liberal towards him. From this doctrine, however, the other point which I have before touched upon will follow, namely, that it is impossible for men, by any merits of their own, to bring God under obligation to them, so as to make him their debtor. The sum of the discourse is, that when we come before God, we must lay aside all presumption. When we imagine that there is any good thing in us, we need not wonder if he reject us, as we thus take away from him a principal part of the honor which is his due. But, on the contrary, if we acknowledge that all the services which we can yield him are in themselves things of nought, and undeserving of any recompense, this humility is as a perfume of a sweet odour, which will procure for them acceptance with God.
3. Unto the saints who are on the earth. Almost all are agreed in understanding this place, as if David, after the sentence which we have just now been considering, had added, The only way of serving God aright is to endeavor to do good to his holy servants. And the truth is, that God, as our good deeds cannot extend to him, substitutes the saints in his place, towards whom we are to exercise our charity. When men, therefore, mutually exert themselves in doing good to one another, this is to yield to God right and acceptable service. We ought, doubtless, to extend our charity even to those who are unworthy of it, as our heavenly Father
“maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good,” (Mt 5:45;)
but David justly prefers the saints to others, and places them in a higher rank. This, then, as I have said in the commencement, is the common opinion of almost all interpreters. 307 But although I do not deny that this doctrine is comprehended under the words of David, I think he goes somewhat farther, and intimates that he will unite himself with the devout worshippers of God, and be their associate or companion; even as all the children of God ought to be joined together by the bond of fraternal unity, that they may all serve and call upon their common Father with the same affection and zeal. 308 We thus see that David, after having confessed that he can find nothing in himself to bring to God, seeing he is indebted to him for every thing which he has, sets his affections upon the saints, because it is the will of God that, in this world, he should be magnified and exalted in the assembly of the just, whom he has adopted into his family for this end, that they may live together with one accord under his authority, and under the guidance of his Holy Spirit. This passage, therefore, teaches us that there is no sacrifice more acceptable to God than when we sincerely and heartily connect ourselves with the society of the righteous, and being knit together by the sacred bond of godliness, cultivate and maintain with them brotherly good-will. In this consists the communion of saints which separates them from the degrading pollutions of the world, that they may be the holy and peculiar people of God. He expressly speaks of the saints who are on the earth, because it is the will of God that, even in this world, there should be conspicuous marks, and as it were visible escutcheons, 309 of his glory, which may serve to conduct us to himself. The faithful, therefore, bear his image, that, by their example, we may be stirred up to meditation upon the heavenly life. For the same reason, the Psalmist calls them excellent, or honorable, because there is nothing which ought to be more precious to us than righteousness and holiness, in which the brightness of God’s Spirit shines forth; just as we are commanded in the preceding psalm to prize and honor those who fear God. We ought, therefore, highly to value and esteem the true and devoted servants of God, and to regard nothing as of greater importance than to connect ourselves with their society; and this we will actually do if we wisely reflect in what true excellence and dignity consist, and do not allow the vain splendor of the world and its deceitful pomps to dazzle our eyes.
4. Their sorrows shall be multiplied who offer to a stranger. 310 I will not taste 311 their libations 312 of blood, nor will I take their names in my lips.
The Psalmist now describes the true way of maintaining brotherly concord with the saints, by declaring that he will have nothing to do with unbelievers and the superstitious. We cannot be united into the one body of the Church under God, if we do not break off all the bonds of impiety, separate ourselves from idolaters, and keep ourselves pure and at a distance from all the pollutions which corrupt and vitiate the holy service of God. This is certainly the general drift of David’s discourse. But as to the words there is a diversity of opinion among expositors. Some translate the first word of the verse עצבות, atsboth, by idols, 313 and according to this rendering the meaning is, that after men in their folly have once begun to make to themselves false gods, their madness breaks forth without measure, until they accumulate an immense multitude of deities. As, however, this word is here put in the feminine gender, I prefer translating it sorrows or troubles, although it may still have various meanings. Some think it is an imprecation, and they read, Let their sorrows be multiplied; as if David, inflamed with a holy zeal, denounced the just vengeance of God against the superstitious. Others, whose opinions I prefer, do not change the tense of the verb, which in the Hebrew is future, Their sorrows shall be multiplied; but to me they do not seem to express, with sufficient clearness, what kind of sorrows David intends. They say, indeed, that wretched idolaters are perpetually adding to their new inventions, in doing which, they miserably torment themselves. But I am of opinion, that by this word there is, at the same time, denoted the end and issue of the pains which they take in committing it; it points out that they not only put themselves to trouble without any profit or advantage, but also miserably harass and busy themselves to accomplish their own destruction. As an incitement to him to withdraw himself farther from their company, he takes this as an incontrovertible principle, that, so far from deriving any advantage from their vain superstitions, they only, by their strenuous efforts in practising them, involve themselves in greater misery and wretchedness. For what must be the issue with respect to those miserable men who willingly surrender themselves as bond-slaves to the devil, but to be disappointed of their hope? even as God complains in Jeremiah, (Jer 2:13,)
“They have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”
In the next clause there is also some ambiguity. The Hebrew word מהר, mahar, which we have translated to offer, in the conjugation kal signifies to endow, or to give. But as, in the conjugation hiphil, it is more frequently taken for to run, or to make haste, 314 many have preferred this latter meaning, and interpret the clause thus, that superstitious persons eagerly hasten after strange gods. And in fact we see them rushing into their idolatries with all the impetuosity and recklessness of madmen running in the fields; 315 and the prophets often upbraid them for this inconsiderate frenzy with which they are fired. I would, therefore, be much disposed to adopt this sense were it supported by the common usage of the language; but as grammarians observe that there is not to be found another similar passage in Scripture, I have followed, in my translation, the first opinion. In short, the sum of what the Psalmist says is this, That unbelievers, who lavish and squander away their substance upon their idols, not only lose all the gifts and offerings which they present to them, but also, by provoking the wrath of God against themselves, are continually increasing the amount of their miseries. Perhaps, also, the prophet has an allusion to the common doctrine of Scripture, that idolaters violate the promise of the spiritual marriage contracted with the true God, and enter into covenant with idols. 316 Ezekiel (Eze 16:33) justly upbraids the Jews, in that while the custom is for the lover to allure the harlot with presents, they, on the contrary, offered rewards to the idols to whom they prostituted and abandoned themselves. But the meaning which we have above given brings out the spirit of the passage, namely, that unbelievers, who honor their false gods by offering to them gifts, not only lose what is thus expended, but also heap up for themselves sorrows upon sorrows, because at last the issue will be miserable and ruinous to them.
I will not taste their libations of blood. By libations of blood some understand that there is a reference to sacrifices made of things acquired by murder or rapine. As, however, the prophet is not here inveighing against cruel and bloodthirsty men, but condemns, in general, all false and corrupt religious worship; and again, as he does not directly name sacrifices, but expressly speaks of the ceremony of taking the cup, and tasting a little of it, which was observed in offering sacrifices, 317 I have no doubt but that to this ceremony, as it was observed according to the law of God, he here tacitly opposes the drinking of blood in heathen sacrifices. We know that God, in order to teach his ancient people to hold in greater abhorrence murder and all cruelty, forbade them to eat or to drink blood either in their common food or in sacrifices. On the contrary, the histories of the heathen nations bear testimony that the custom of tasting the blood in their sacrifices prevailed among them. David, therefore, protests, that he will not only keep himself uncontaminated by the corrupt and false opinions by which idolaters are seduced, but that he will also take care not to show outwardly any token of his complying with or approving them. In the same sense we are to understand what follows immediately after, I will not take their names in my lips. This implies that he will hold idols in such hatred and detestation, as to keep himself from naming them as from execrable treason against the majesty of heaven. Not that it is unlawful to pronounce their names, which we frequently meet with in the writings of the prophets, but David felt he could not otherwise more forcibly express the supreme horror and detestation with which the faithful ought to regard false gods. This is also shown by the form of expression which he employs, using the relative only, their names, although he has not expressly stated before that he is speaking of idols. Thus, by his example, he enjoins believers not only to beware of errors and wicked opinions, but also to abstain from all appearance of giving their consent to them. He evidently speaks of external ceremonies, which indicate either the true religion, or some perverse superstition. If, then, it is unlawful for the faithful to show any token of consenting to or complying with the superstitions of idolaters, Nicodemuses (who falsely call themselves by this name 318 ) must not think to shelter themselves under the frivolous pretext that they have not renounced the faith, but keep it hidden within their hearts, when they join in the observance of the profane superstitions of the Papists. Some understand the words strangers and their names, as denoting the worshippers of false gods; but in my judgment David rather means the false gods themselves. The scope of his discourse is this: The earth is filled with an immense accumulation 319 of superstitions in every possible variety, and idolaters are lavish beyond all bounds in ornamenting their idols; but the good and the holy will ever regard all their superstitious inventions with abhorrence.
5. Jehovah is the portion of mine inheritance, and of my cup; thou sustainest my lot. 6. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.
5. The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance. Here the Psalmist explains his sentiments more clearly. He shows the reason why he separates himself from idolaters, and resolves to continue in the church of God, why he shuns, with abhorrence, all participation in their errors, and cleaves to the pure worship of God; namely, because he rests in the only true God as his portion. The unhappy restlessness of those blind idolaters 320 whom we see going astray, and running about as if stricken and impelled by madness, is doubtless to be traced to their destitution of the true knowledge of God. All who have not their foundation and trust in God must necessarily be often in a state of irresolution and uncertainty; and those who do not hold the true faith in such a manner as to be guided and governed by it, must be often carried away by the overflowing floods of errors which prevail in the world. 321 This passage teaches us, that none are taught aright in true godliness but those who reckon God alone sufficient for their happiness. David, by calling God the portion of his lot, and his inheritance, and his cup, protests that he is so fully satisfied with him alone, as neither to covet any thing besides him, nor to be excited by any depraved desires. Let us therefore learn, when God offers himself to us, to embrace him with the whole heart, and to seek in him only all the ingredients and the fullness of our happiness. All the superstitions which have ever prevailed in the world have undoubtedly proceeded from this source, that superstitious men have not been contented with possessing God alone. But we do not actually possess him unless “he is the portion of our inheritance;” in other words, unless we are wholly devoted to him, so as no longer to have any desire unfaithfully to depart from him. For this reason, God, when he upbraids the Jews who had wandered from him as apostates, 322 with having run about after idols, addresses them thus, “Let them be thine inheritance, and thy portion.” By these words he shows, that if we do not reckon him alone an all-sufficient portion for us, and if we will have idols along with him, 323 he gives place entirely to them, and lets them have the full possession of our hearts. David here employs three metaphors; he first compares God to an inheritance; secondly, to a cup; and, thirdly, he represents him as He who defends and keeps him in possession of his inheritance. By the first metaphor he alludes to the heritages of the land of Canaan, which we know were divided among the Jews by divine appointment, and the law commanded every one to be content with the portion which had fallen to him. By the word cup is denoted either the revenue of his own proper inheritance, or by synecdoche, ordinary food by which life is sustained, seeing drink is a part of our nourishment. 324 It is as if David had said, God is mine both in respect of property and enjoyment. Nor is the third comparison superfluous. It often happens that rightful owners are put out of their possession because no one defends them. But while God has given himself to us for an inheritance, he has engaged to exercise his power in maintaining us in the safe enjoyment of a good so inconceivably great. It would be of little advantage to us to have once obtained him as ours, if he did not secure our possession of him against the assaults which Satan daily makes upon us. Some explain the third clause as if it had been said, Thou art my ground in which my portion is situated; but this sense appears to me to be cold and unsatisfactory.
6. The lines 325 have fallen to me. The Psalmist confirms more fully what he had already said in the preceding verse with respect to his resting, with a composed and tranquil mind, in God alone; or rather, he so glories in God as nobly to despise all that the world imagines to be excellent and desirable without him. By magnifying God in such honorable and exalted strains, he gives us to understand that he does not desire any thing more as his portion and felicity. This doctrine may be profitable to us in many ways. It ought to draw us away not only from all the perverse inventions of superstition, but also from all the allurements of the flesh and of the world. Whenever, therefore, those things present themselves to us which would lead us away from resting in God alone, let us make use of this sentiment as an antidote against them, that we have sufficient cause for being contented, since he who has in himself an absolute fullness of all good has given himself to be enjoyed by us. In this way we will experience our condition to be always pleasant and comfortable; for he who has God as his portion is destitute of nothing which is requisite to constitute a happy life.
7. I will magnify Jehovah, who giveth me counsel; even in the night my reins instruct me. 326
Last of all, David confesses that it was entirely owing to the pure grace of God that he had come to possess so great a good, and that he had been made a partaker of it by faith. It would be of no advantage to us for God to offer himself freely and graciously to us, if we did not receive him by faith, seeing he invites to himself both the reprobate and the elect in common; but the former, by their ingratitude, defraud themselves of this inestimable blessing. Let us, therefore, know that both these things proceed from the free liberality of God; first, his being our inheritance, and next, our coming to the possession of him by faith. The counsel of which David makes mention is the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit, by which we are prevented from rejecting the salvation to which he calls us, which we would otherwise certainly do, considering the blindness of our flesh. 327 Whence we gather, that those who attribute to the free will of man the choice of accepting or rejecting the grace of God basely mangle that grace, and show as much ignorance as impiety. That this discourse of David ought not to be understood of external teaching appears clearly from the words, for he tells us that he was instructed in the night when he was removed from the sight of men. Again, when he speaks of this being done in his reins, he doubtless means secret inspirations. 328 Farther, it ought to be carefully observed, that, in speaking of the time when he was instructed, he uses the plural number, saying, it was done in the nights. By this manner of speaking, he not only ascribes to God the beginning of faith, but acknowledges that he is continually making progress under his tuition; and, indeed, it is necessary for God, during the whole of our life, to continue to correct the vanity of our minds, to kindle the light of faith into a brighter flame, and by every means to advance us higher in the attainments of spiritual wisdom.
8. I have set Jehovah continually before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. 9. Therefore my heart 329 is glad, my tongue rejoiceth; my flesh also dwelleth in confidence, [or in security.]
8. I have set Jehovah, etc. The Psalmist again shows the firmness and stability of his faith. To set God before us is nothing else than to keep all our senses bound and captive, that they may not run out and go astray after any other object. We must look to him with other eyes than those of the flesh, for we shall seldom be able to perceive him unless we elevate our minds above the world; and faith prevents us from turning our back upon him. The meaning, therefore, is, that David kept his mind so intently fixed upon the providence of God, as to be fully persuaded, that whenever any difficulty or distress should befall him, God would be always at hand to assist him. He adds, also, continually, to show us how he constantly depended upon the assistance of God, so that, amidst the various conflicts with which he was agitated, no fear of danger could make him turn his eyes to any other quarter than to God in search of succor. And thus we ought so to depend upon God as to continue to be fully persuaded of his being near to us, even when he seems to be removed to the greatest distance from us. When we shall have thus turned our eyes towards him, the masks and the vain illusions of this world will no longer deceive us.
Because he is at my right hand. I read this second clause as a distinct sentence from the preceding. To connect them together as some do in this way, I have set the Lord continually before me, because he is at my right hand, would give a meagre meaning to the words, and take away much of the truth which is taught in them, as it would make David to say, that he measured God’s presence according to the experience he had of it; a mode of speaking which would not be at all becoming. I consider, therefore, the words, I have set the Lord continually before me, as a complete sentence, and David set the Lord before him for the purpose of constantly repairing to him in all his dangers. For his greater encouragement to hope well, he sets before himself what it is to have God’s assistance and fatherly care, namely, that it implies his keeping firm and unmoved his own people with whom he is present. David then reckons himself secure against all dangers, and promises himself certain safety, because, with the eyes of faith, he beholds God as present with him. From this passage we are furnished with an argument which overthrows the fabrication of the Sorbonists, 330 that the faithful are in doubt with respect to their final perseverance; for David, in very plain terms, extends his reliance on the grace of God to the time to come. And, certainly, it would be a very miserable condition to be in, to tremble in uncertainty every moment, having no assurance of the continuance of the grace of God towards us.
9. Therefore my heart is glad. In this verse the Psalmist commends the inestimable fruit of faith, of which Scripture every where makes mention, in that, by placing us under the protection of God, it makes us not only to live in the enjoyment of mental tranquillity, but, what is more, to live joyful and cheerful. The principal, the essential part of a happy life, as we know, is to possess tranquillity of conscience and of mind; as, on the contrary, there is no greater infelicity than to be tossed amidst a multiplicity of cares and fears.
But the ungodly, however much intoxicated with the spirit of thoughtlessness or stupidity, never experience true joy or serene mental peace; they rather feel terrible agitations within, which often come upon them and trouble them, so much as to constrain them to awake from their lethargy. In short, calmly to rejoice is the lot of no man but of him who has learned to place his confidence in God alone, and to commit his life and safety to his protection. When, therefore, encompassed with innumerable troubles on all sides, let us be persuaded, that the only remedy is to direct our eyes towards God; and if we do this, faith will not only tranquillise our minds, but also replenish them with fullness of joy. David, however, not only affirms that he is glad inwardly; he also makes his tongue, yea, even his flesh, sharers of this joy. And not without cause, for true believers not only have this spiritual joy in the secret affection of their heart, but also manifest it by the tongue, inasmuch as they glory in God as He who protects them and secures their salvation. The word כבוד, kabod, properly signifies glory and excellence. I have, however, no doubt of its being here taken for the tongue, 331 as it is in Ge 49:6; for otherwise the division which is obviously made in this verse of the person into three parts is not so distinct and evident. Farther, although the body is not free from inconveniences and troubles, yet as God defends and maintains not only our souls, but also our bodies, David does not speak groundlessly when he represents the blessing of dwelling in safety as extending to his flesh in common with his soul.
10. For thou wilt not leave my soul in the grave; neither wilt thou make thy Holy One to see the pit. 332
The Psalmist goes on to explain still more fully the preceding doctrine, by declaring that as he is not afraid of death, there is nothing wanting which is requisite to the completion of his joy. Whence it follows, that no one truly trusts in God but he who takes such hold of the salvation which God has promised him as to despise death. Moreover, it is to be observed, that David’s language is not to be limited to some particular kind of deliverance, as in Ps 49:15, where he says, “God hath redeemed my soul from the power of the grave,” and in other similar passages; but he entertains the undoubted assurance of eternal salvation, which freed him from all anxiety and fear. It is as if he had said, There will always be ready for me a way of escape from the grave, that I may not remain in corruption. God, in delivering his people from any danger, prolongs their life only for a short time; but how slender and how empty a consolation would it be to obtain some brief respite, and to take breath for a short time, until death, coming at last, should terminate the course of our life, 333 and swallow us up without any hope of deliverance? Hence it appears that when David spake thus, he raised his mind above the common lot of mankind. As the sentence has been pronounced upon all the children of Adam, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” (Ge 3:19,) the same condition in this respect awaits them all without exception. If, therefore, Christ, who is the first-fruits of those who rise again, does not come forth from the grave, they will remain for ever under the bondage of corruption. From this Peter justly concludes, (Ac 2:30,) that David could not have gloried in this manner but by the spirit of prophecy; and unless he had had a special respect to the Author of life, who was promised to him, who alone was to be honored with this privilege in its fullest sense. This, however, did not prevent David from assuring himself of exemption from the dominion of death by right, seeing Christ, by his rising from the dead, obtained immortality not for himself individually, but for us all. As to the point, that Peter (Ac 2:30) and Paul (Ac 13:33) contend that this prophecy was fulfilled in the person of Christ alone, 334 the sense in which we must understand them is this, that he was wholly and perfectly exempted from the corruption of the grave, that he might call his members into his fellowship, and make them partakers of this blessing, 335 although by degrees, and each according to his measure. As the body of David, after death, was, in the course of time, reduced to dust, the apostles justly conclude that he was not exempted from corruption. It is the same with respect to all the faithful, not one of whom becomes a partaker of incorruptible life without being first subjected to corruption. From this it follows that the fullness of life which resides in the head alone, namely, in Christ, falls down upon the members only in drops, or in small portions. The question, however, may be asked, as Christ descended into the grave, was not he also subject to corruption? The answer is easy. The etymology or derivation of the two words here used to express the grave should be carefully attended to. The grave is called שאול, sheol, being as it were an insatiable gulf, which devours and consumes all things, and the pit is called שחת, shachath, which signifies corruption. These words, therefore, here denote not so much the place as the quality and condition of the place, as if it had been said, The life of Christ will be exempted from the dominion of the grave, inasmuch as his body, even when dead, will not be subject to corruption. Besides, we know that the grave of Christ was filled, and as it were embalmed with the life-giving perfume of his Spirit, that it might be to him the gate to immortal glory. Both the Greek and Latin Fathers, I confess, have strained these words to a meaning wholly different, referring them to the bringing back of the soul of Christ from hell. But it is better to adhere to the natural simplicity of the interpretation which I have given, that we may not make ourselves objects of ridicule, to the Jews; and farther, that one subtilty, by engendering many others, may not involve us in a labyrinth. In the second clause mention is without doubt made of the body; and we know it to be a mode of speaking very common with David intentionally to repeat the same thing twice, making a slight variation as to words. It is true, we translate נפש, nephesh, by soul, but in Hebrew it only signifies the vital breath, or life itself
11. Thou wilt make me to know the path of life; fullness of joy is in thy countenance, pleasures are at thy right hand for evermore.
The Psalmist confirms the statement made in the preceding verse, and explains the way in which God will exempt him from the bondage of death, namely, by conducting and bringing him at length safely to the possession of eternal life. Whence we again learn what I have already observed, that this passage touches upon the difference which there is between true believers and aliens, or reprobates, with respect to their everlasting state. It is a mere cavil to say, that when David here speaks of the path of life being shown to him, it means the prolongation of his natural life. It is to form a very low estimate, indeed, of the grace of God to speak of him as a guide to his people in the path of life only for a very few years in this world. In this case, they would differ nothing from the reprobate, who enjoy the light of the sun in common with them. If, therefore, it is the special grace of God which he communicates to none but his own children, that David here magnifies and exalts, the showing of the way of life, of which he speaks, must undoubtedly be viewed as extending to a blessed immortality; and, indeed, he only knows the way of life who is so united to God that he lives in God, and cannot live without him.
David next adds, that when God is reconciled to us, we have all things which are necessary to perfect happiness. The phrase, the countenance of God, may be understood either of our being beheld by him, or of our beholding him; but I consider both these ideas as included, for his fatherly favor, which he displays in looking upon us with a serene countenance, precedes this joy, and is the first cause of it, and yet this does not cheer us until, on our part, we behold it shining upon us. By this clause David also intended distinctly to express to whom those pleasures belong, of which God has in his hand a full and an overflowing abundance. As there are with God pleasures sufficient to replenish and satisfy the whole world, whence comes it to pass that a dismal and deadly darkness envelopes the greater part of mankind, but because God does not look upon all men equally with his friendly and fatherly countenance, nor opens the eyes of all men to seek the matter of their joy in him, and no where else? Fulness of joy is contrasted with the evanescent allurements and pleasures of this transitory world, which, after having diverted their miserable votaries for a time, leave them at length unsatisfied, famished, and disappointed. They may intoxicate and glut themselves with pleasures to the greatest excess, but, instead of being satisfied, they rather become wearied of them through loathing; and, besides, the pleasures of this world vanish away like dreams. David, therefore, testifies that true and solid joy in which the minds of men may rest will never be found any where else but in God; and that, therefore, none but the faithful, who are contented with his grace alone, can be truly and perfectly happy.
The word means gold, the finest gold, and those who understand it in this sense here, think the psalm receives this title to denote that it is fit to be written in letters of gold; and some conjecture that the psalms distinguished by this title were, on some occasion or other, thus written and hung up in the sanctuary. Others are of opinion that the word mictam is derived from כתם, catham, which signifies to mark, to engrave, to denote that the psalm is fit to be engraven on a valuable and durable pillar, to be preserved in everlasting remembrance. This is the meaning attached to the word by the Septuagint, which translates it στηλογραφία, an inscription on a pillar or monument. In either of these views the title cannot but be regarded as peculiarly appropriate to this sacred poem. “As a sepulchral inscription,” remarks Bishop Mant, “it might have been written on our Redeemer’s tomb; as a triumphal monument, it might have been sung by him in the region of departed spirits; and in either, or in any sense, it may well be considered as a golden composition, as apples of gold in network of which occur in the titles of the psalms, are the names of old melodies.
“Guard me.” The Hebrew word expresses the actions of those who watch over another’s safety, as of guards attending their king, or a shepherd keeping his flock.” — Horsley.
“The Hebrew word חסיתי, chasithi, from חס, chasah, denotes to betake one’s self for refuge to anyone, under whose protection he may be safe, as chickens under the wing of the hen.” — Buxtor. ff.
The word, נפשי, naphshi, is commonly supposed to be understood, Thou, my soul, shalt say, or hast said. But all the ancient versions, except the Chaldee, read in the first person, I have said, and this is the reading in many MSS. The words, however, “Thou, my soul, hast said,” are equivalent to “I have said.”
The Septuagint reads, Των ἀγαθων μου ου χρειαν ἐχεις Thou hast no need of my goodness, [or good things.] The reading in Tyndale Bible, “My goods are nothing unto thee.”
“Voyla donc (ainsi que j’ay commencement dire) l’opinion commune, quasi de tous.” — Fr.
“D’un accord, et d’une roesroe affection.” — Fr. “With one accord, and with the same affection.”
“Et comme armoiries apparentes.” — Fr.
“A un Dieu estrange, et autre que le vray Dieu.” — Note, Fr. marg. “That is, to a strange God, and another than the true God.”
In the Latin version, the word is “libabo,” which means either to taste, or to pour out in offering; in the French version it is “gousteray,” which means simply to taste. “The Gentiles used.” Says Poole, (“as diverse learned men have observed,) to offer, and sometimes to drink part of the blood of their sacrifices, whether of beasts or of men, as either of them were sacrificed.” — Poole, Annotations.
In the French version, the word is “sacrifices,” on which Calvin has the following note on the margin:— “Le mot signifie proprement bruvages accoustumez en sacrifices.” — “The word properly signifies the customary drinks in sacrifices.”
The Chaldee version reads, “their idols.” The Septuagint reads, ἀσθενειαι αὐτων, “their weaknesses,” or” afflictions;” and the Syriac and Arabic use a word of similar import. Bishop Patrick paraphrases the verse as follows: — “They multiply idols, (here in this place whither I am driven, 1Sa 26:19,) and are zealous in the service of another God. But I will never forsake thee by partaking with them in their abominable sacrifices, (in which the blood of men is offered,) nor by swearing by the name of any of their false gods.” “Dathe observes, that עצבות, never signifies idols, the proper word being עצבים. See Gesenius and 1Sa 31:9; 2Sa 5:21; Ho 4:17. The other versions of the Polyglott support the common interpretation, which is also approved by Dathe, Horsley, Berlin, and De Rossi.” — Roger’s Book of Psalms, in Hebrew, Metrically Arranged; vol. 2, p. 172.
Walford translates the verse thus:—
“They multiply their sorrows who hastily turn backward;
Their libations of blood will I not offer;
Nor will I take their names upon my lips.”
And the sense which he attaches to the passage is, that David having in the preceding verse declared his delight in the righteous, here states that those who turn away from God and his truth augment their own sufferings; and affirms it to be his resolution to have no fellowship with them in their religious services, which were polluted and detestable, or in the intercourse of friendship by making mention of their names.
“Et de faict, nous voyons de quelle impetuosite ils se jettent on leurs idolatries sans regarder, lien, tellement qu’il semble que ce soyent gens forcenez, qui courent a travers champs.” — Fr.
Horsley reads, “They shall multiply their sorrows [who] betroth themselves to another. That is, who go a whoring after other gods.”
“Mais touche nommement la ceremonie qu’on observoit en sacrifices asgavoir de prendre la coupe et en gouster un peu.” — Fr. On the margin of the French version there is a reference to the Commentaries of Calvin upon Matthew 26:26, and Genesis 9:4.
“Qui se nomment ainsi, tort.” — Fr.
“Quoy que la terre soit pleine d’un grand areas d’infinite de superstitions.” — Fr.
“De ces aveugles d’idolatres.” — Fr.
“Transportez par les desbordemens impetueux des erreurs qui regnent au monde.” — Fr.
“Qui s’estoyent destournez de lui comme apostats.” — Fr.
“Ains que no’vueillions avoir avec lui les idoles.” — Fr.
“D’autant que le bruvage est une partie de nostre nourriture.” — Fr.
The Hebrew is measuring lines. There is here an allusion to the ancient division of the land of Canaan among God’s chosen people. This was done by lot, and the length and breadth of the portion of each tribe was ascertained by cords or measuring lines. Hence they came to signify the land so measured out.
“My reins” is the literal rendering of the Hebrew text, and they denote the working of the thoughts and affections of the soul. “Common experience,” says Parkhurst, “shows that the workings of the mind, particularly the passions of joy, grief, and fear, have a very, remarkable effect on the reins or kidneys, so, from their retired situation in the body, and their being hid in fat, they are often used in Scripture to denote the most secret working of the soul and affections” “The reins or kidneys,” says Walford, in a note on this passage, “are used to signify the interior faculties; and the divine speaker observes, that in seasons of solitude, his thoughts were instinctively employed in contemplating the heavenly discoveries that were communicated to him.” In Tyndale’s Bible the reading of the last clause is, “My reins also have chastened me in the night season.” And Fry observes, that the word יסר, signifies not so immediately to instruct, as to chasten, correct, or discipline.
“Ce qu’autrement nous ferions, veu l’aveuglement de nostre chair.” — Fr.
Calvin means that God taught David by secret inspirations.
“כפוד, kabod, is the liver, which, like the heart, the reins, etc., is used for the mind, so that the sense is, “I myself will rejoice.” — Walford
The Doctors of the Sorbonne, a university in Paris.
The reading of the Septuagint is, “γλωσσα μου” “my tongue.” This is unquestionably the meaning. David uses the word glory for the organ by which God is glorified or praised. The Apostle Peter, in quoting this passage, (Ac 2:26,) reads, “my tongue.” See also Ps 36:12
“The Hebrew word shachath,” says Poole, “though sometimes, by a metonymy, it signifies the pit or place of corruption, yet properly and generally it signifies corruption or perdition. And so it must be understood here, although some of the Jews, to avoid the force of this argument, render it the pit. But in that sense it is not true, for whether it be meant of David, as they say, or of Christ, it is confessed that both of them did see the pit, that is, were laid in the grave.” Hence he concludes that corruption is the proper rendering of the original word. The phrase, however, to see the pit, may not mean to be laid in the grave, but to continue in it for any length of time. The meaning which Calvin attaches to the word pit is substantially that which our English translators attached to the original word which they render corruption. Hengstenberg adopts and defends Calvin’s rendering.
“Jusqu’a ce que la mort finalement venant, rompist le cours de nos jours.” — Fr.
Thus we have the authority of two apostles for understanding the concluding part of this psalm as a prophecy of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
“Et les faire venir a la participation de ce bien.” — Fr.