Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 8: Psalms, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
As God stands related to all mankind as their Creator and Governor, David, from this consideration, magnifies the special favor which God manifested towards the children of Abraham, in choosing them to be his peculiar people, in preference to the rest of mankind, and in erecting his sanctuary as his house that he might dwell among them. He shows, at the same time, that although the sanctuary was open to all the Jews, God was not near to all of them, but only to those who feared and served him in sincerity, and who had cleansed themselves from the pollutions of the world, in order to devote themselves to holiness and righteousness. Moreover, as the grace of God was more clearly manifested after the temple was built, he celebrates that grace in a strain of splendid poetry, to encourage true believers with the more alacrity to persevere in the exercise of serving and honoring him.
A Psalm of David.
1. The earth is Jehovah’s, and the fullness thereof; 539 the world, and they that dwell therein: 2. For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods. 3. Who shall ascend unto the hill of Jehovah? who shall stand in his holy place? 4. He who is clean of hands, and pure of heart; who hath not lifted up his soul to vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.
1. The earth is Jehovah’s. We will find in many other places the children of Abraham compared with all the rest of mankind, that the free goodness of God, in selecting them from all other nations, and in embracing them with his favor, may shine forth the more conspicuously. The object of the beginning of the psalm is to show that the Jews had nothing of themselves which could entitle them to approach nearer or more familiarly to God than the Gentiles. As God by his providence preserves the world, the power of his government is alike extended to all, so that he ought to be worshipped by all, even as he also shows to all men, without exception, the fatherly care he has about them. But since he preferred the Jews to all other nations, it was indispensably necessary that there should be some sacred bond of connection between him and them, which might distinguish them from the heathen nations. By this argument David invites and exhorts them to holiness. He tells them that it was reasonable that those whom God had adopted as his children, should bear certain marks peculiar to themselves, and not be altogether like strangers. Not that he incites them to endeavor to prejudice God against others, in order to gain his exclusive favor; but he teaches them, from the end or design of their election, that they shall then have secured to them the firm and peaceful possession of the honor which God had conferred upon them above other nations, when they devote themselves to an upright and holy life. 540 In vain would they have been collected together into a distinct body, as the peculiar people of God, if they did not apply themselves to the cultivation of holiness. In short, the Psalmist pronounces God to be the King of the whole world, to let all men know that, even by the law of nature, they are bound to serve him. And by declaring that he made a covenant of salvation with a small portion of mankind, and by the erection of the tabernacle, gave the children of Abraham the symbol of his presence, thereby to assure them of his dwelling in the midst of them, he teaches them that they must endeavor to have purity of heart and of hands, if they would be accounted the members of his sacred family.
With respect to the word fullness, I admit that under it all the riches with which the earth is adorned are comprehended, as is proved by the authority of Paul; but I have no doubt that the Psalmist intends by the expression men themselves, who are the most illustrious ornament and glory of the earth. If they should fail, the earth would exhibit a scene of desolation and solitude, not less hideous than if God should despoil it of all its other riches. To what purpose are there produced so many kinds of fruit, and in so great abundance, and why are there so many pleasant and delightful countries, if it is not for the use and comfort of men? 541 Accordingly, David explains, in the following clause, that it is principally of men that he speaks. It is his usual manner to repeat the same thing twice, and here the fullness of the earth, and the inhabitants of the world, have the same meaning. I do not, however, deny that the riches with which the earth abounds for the use of men, are comprehended under these expressions. Paul, therefore, (1Co 10:26) when discoursing concerning meats, justly quotes this passage in support of his argument, maintaining that no kind of food is unclean, because, “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.”
2. For he hath founded it upon the seas. The Psalmist here confirms the truth, that men are rightfully under the authority and power of God, so that in all places and countries they ought to acknowledge him as King. And he confirms it from the very order manifested in the creation; for the wonderful providence of God is clearly reflected in the whole face of the earth. In order to prove this, he brings forward the proof of it, which is most evident. How is it that the earth appears above the water, but because God purposely intended to prepare a habitation for men? Philosophers themselves admit, that as the element of the water is higher than the earth, it is contrary to the nature of the two elements 542 for any part of the earth to continue uncovered with the waters, and habitable. Accordingly, Job (Job 28:11, 25) extols, in magnificent terms, that signal miracle by which God restrains the violent and tempestuous ragings of the sea, that it may not overwhelm the earth, which, if not thus restrained, it would immediately do and produce horrible confusion. Nor does Moses forget to mention this in the history of the creation. After having narrated that the waters were spread abroad so as to cover the whole earth, he adds, that by an express command of God they retired into one place, in order to leave empty space for the living creatures which were afterwards to be created, (Ge 1:9) From that passage we learn that God had a care about men before they existed, inasmuch as he prepared for them a dwelling-place and other conveniences; and that he did not regard them as entire strangers, seeing he provided for their necessities, not less liberally than the father of a family does for his own children. David does not here dispute philosophically concerning the situation of the earth, when he says, that it has been founded upon the seas. He uses popular language, and adapts himself to the capacity of the unlearned. Yet this manner of speaking, which is taken from what may be judged of by the eye, is not without reason. The element of earth, it is true, in so far as it occupies the lowest place in the order of the sphere, is beneath the waters; but the habitable part of the earth is above the water, and how can we account for it, that this separation of the water from the earth remains stable, but because God has put the waters underneath, as it were for a foundation? Now, as from the creation of the world, God extended his fatherly care to all mankind, the prerogative of honor, by which the Jews excelled all other nations, proceeded only from the free and sovereign choice by which God distinguished them.
3. Who shall ascend unto. It being very well known that it was of pure grace that God erected his sanctuary, and chose for himself a dwelling-place among the Jews, David makes only a tacit reference to this subject. 543 He insists principally on the other point contained in the verse, that of distinguishing true Israelites from the false and bastards. He takes the argument by which he exhorts the Jews to lead a holy and righteous life from this, that God had separated them from the rest of the world, to be his peculiar inheritance. The rest of mankind, it is true, seeing they were created by him, belong to his empire; but he who occupies a place in the church is more nearly related to him. All those, therefore, whom God receives into his flock he calls to holiness; and he lays them under obligations to follow it by his adoption. Moreover, by these words David indirectly rebukes hypocrites, who scrupled not falsely to take to themselves the holy name of God, as we know that they are usually lifted up with pride, because of the titles which they take without having the excellencies which these titles imply, contenting themselves with bearing only outside distinctions; 544 yea, rather he purposely magnifies this singular grace of God, that every man may learn for himself, that he has no right of entrance or access to the sanctuary, unless he sanctify himself in order to serve God in purity. The ungodly and wicked, it is true, were in the habit of resorting to the tabernacle; and, therefore, God, by the Prophet Isaiah, (Isa 1:12) reproaches them for coming unworthily into his courts, and wearing the pavement thereof. But David here treats of those who may lawfully enter into God’s sanctuary. The house of God being holy, if any rashly, and without a right, rush into it, their corruption and abuse are nothing else but polluting it. As therefore they do not go up thither lawfully, David makes no account of their going up; yea, rather, under these words there is included a severe rebuke, of the conduct of wicked and profane men, in daring to go up into the sanctuary, and to pollute it with their impurity. On this subject I have spoken more fully on the 15th psalm. In the second part of the verse he seems to denote perseverance, as if he had said, Who shall go up into the hill of Sion, to appear and stand in the presence of God? The Hebrew word קום, kum, it is true, sometimes signifies to rise up, but it is generally taken for to stand, as we have seen in the first psalm. And although this is a repetition of the same idea, stated in the preceding clause, it is not simply so, but David, by expressing the end for which they ought to go up, illustrates and amplifies the subject; and this repetition and amplification we find him often making use of in other psalms. In short, how much soever the wicked were mingled with the good in the church, in the time of David, he declares how vain a thing it is to make an external profession unless there be, at the same time, truth in the inward man. What he says concerning the tabernacle of the covenant must be applied to the continual government of the church.
4. He who is clean of hands, and pure of heart. Under the purity of the hands and of the heart, and the reverence of God’s name, he comprehends all religion, and denotes a well ordered life. True purity, no doubt, has its seat in the heart, but it manifests its fruits in the works of the hands. The Psalmist, therefore, very properly joins to a pure heart the purity of the whole life; for that man acts a ridiculous part who boasts of having a sound heart, if he does not show by his fruits that the root is good. On the other hand, it will not suffice to frame the hands, feet, and eyes, according to the rule of righteousness, unless purity of heart precede outward continence. If any man should think it absurd that the first place is given to the hands, we answer without hesitation, that effects are often named before their causes, not that they precede them in order, but because it is sometimes advantageous to begin with things which are best known. David, then, would have the Jews to bring into the presence of God pure hands, and these along with an unfeigned heart. To lift up, or to take his soul, I have no doubt is here put for to swear. It is, therefore, here required of the servants of God, that when they swear, they do it with reverence and in good conscience, 545 and, under one particular, by synecdoche, is denoted the duty of observing fidelity and integrity in all the affairs of life. That mention is here made of oaths, appears from the words which immediately follow, And hath not sworn deceitfully, which are added as explanatory of what goes before. As, however, there is a twofold reading of the Hebrew word for soul, that is to say, as it may be read, my soul, or his soul, on account of the point hirek, some Jewish commentators read, Who hath not lifted up my soul to vanity, 546 and understand the word my as spoken of God, an exposition which I reject as harsh and strained. It is a manner of speaking which carries in it great emphasis, for it means, that those who swear offer their souls as pledges to God. Some, however, may perhaps prefer the opinion, that to lift up the soul, is put for to apply it to lying, an interpretation to the adoption of which I have no great objection, for it makes little difference as to the sense. A question may here be raised — it may be asked, why David does not say so much as one word concerning faith and calling upon God. The reason of this is easily explained. As it seldom happens that a man behaves himself uprightly and innocently towards his brethren, unless he is so endued with the true fear of God as to walk circumspectly before him, David very justly forms his estimate of the piety of men towards God by the character of their conduct towards their fellow-men. For the same reason, Christ (Mt 23:23) represents judgment, mercy, and faith, as the principal points of the law; and Paul calls “charity” at one time “the end of the law,” (1Ti 1:5) and at another “the bond of perfection” (Col 3:14.)
5. He shall receive blessing from Jehovah, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6. This is the generation of them that seek him, of them that seek thy face, O Jacob! 547 Selah.
5. He shall receive blessing. The more effectually to move the minds of the Israelites, David declares that nothing is more desirable than to be numbered among the flock of God, and to be members of the church. We must here consider that there is an implied contrast between true Israelites and those of them who were degenerate and bastards. The more license the wicked give themselves, the more presumptuous are they in pretending to the name of God, as if he were under obligation to them, because they are adorned with the same outward symbols or badges as true believers. Accordingly, the demonstrative pronoun this, in the following verse, is of great weight, for it expressly excludes all that bastard generation which gloried only in the mask of external ceremonies. And in this verse, when he speaks of blessing, he intimates that it is not those who boast of being the servants of God, while they have only the name, who shall be partakers of the promised blessing, but those only who answer to their calling with their whole heart, and without hypocrisy. It is, as we have already observed, a very powerful inducement to godliness and an upright life, when the faithful are assured that they do not lose their labor in following righteousness, since God has in reserve for them a blessing which cannot fail them. The word righteousness may be explained two ways. It either means all the benefits of God, by which he proves himself to be righteous and faithful towards his people in keeping his promises to them, or it denotes the fruit or reward of the believer’s righteousness. Indeed, David’s meaning is abundantly manifest. He intends to show on the one hand, that it is not to be expected that the fruit or reward of righteousness will be bestowed on those who unrighteously profane God’s sacred worship; and on the other hand, that it is impossible for God to disappoint his true worshippers; for it is his peculiar office to give evidence of his righteousness by doing them good.
6. This is the generation. I have just now observed, that by the demonstrative pronoun this, the Psalmist erases from the catalogue of the servants of God all counterfeit Israelites, who, trusting only to their circumcision and the sacrifices of beasts, have no concern about offering themselves to God; and yet, at the same time, they rashly thrust themselves into the church. Such persons may pretend to have delight in the service of God, by often coming to his temple, but they have no other design than to withdraw themselves from him as far as they can. Now, as nothing was more common in the mouths of each of them than to say, that they all belonged to the holy seed, the Psalmist has limited the name of holy generation to the true observers of the law; as if he had said, All who have sprung from Abraham, according to the flesh, are not, on that account, his legitimate children. It is, no doubt, truly said in many other places, as we shall see in Psalm 27, that those sought the face of God who, to testify their godliness, exercised themselves in the ceremonies before the ark of the covenant; that is to say, if they were brought thither by a pure and holy affection. But as hypocrites seek God externally in a certain way, as well as true saints, while yet they shun him by their windings and false pretences, 548 David here declares that God is not sought in truth unless there go before a zealous cultivation of holiness and righteousness. To give the sentence greater emphasis, he repeats it, using the second person, and addressing his discourse to God. 549 It is as if he summoned before the judgment-seat of God hypocrites, who account it nothing falsely to use the name of God before the world; and he thus teaches us, that whatever they may say in their empty talk among men, the judgment of God will be a very different matter. He adds the word Jacob, for the confirmation of the same doctrine putting it for those who were descended from Jacob; as if he had said, Although circumcision distinguishes all the seed of Jacob according to the flesh from the Gentiles, yet we can only distinguish the chosen people by the fear and reverence of God, as Christ said, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (Joh 1:47.)
7. Lift up your heads, O ye gates! and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors! and the King of glory shall enter in. 8. Who is this King of glory? Jehovah strong and mighty, Jehovah mighty in battle. 9. Lift up your heads, O ye gates! Be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors! and the King of glory shall enter in. 10. Who is this King of glory? Jehovah of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah.
7. Lift up your heads, O ye gates! The magnificent and splendid structure of the temple, in which there was more outward majesty than in the tabernacle, not being yet erected, David here speaks of the future building of it. By doing this, he encourages the pious Israelites to employ themselves more willingly, and with greater confidence, in the ceremonial observances of the law. It was no ordinary token of the goodness of God that he condescended to dwell in the midst of them by a visible symbol of his presence, and was willing that his heavenly dwelling-place should be seen upon earth. This doctrine ought to be of use to us at this day; for it is an instance of the inestimable grace of God, that so far as the infirmity of our flesh will permit, we are lifted up even to God by the exercises of religion. What is the design of the preaching of the word, the sacraments, the holy assemblies, and the whole external government of the church, but that we may be united to God? It is not, therefore, without good reason that David extols so highly the service of God appointed in the law, seeing God exhibited himself to his saints in the ark of the covenant, and thereby gave them a certain pledge of speedy succor whenever they should invoke him for aid. God, it is true, “dwelleth not in temples made with hands,” nor does he take delight in outward pomp; but as it was useful, and as it was also the pleasure of God, that his ancient people, who were rude, and still in their infancy, should be lifted up to him by earthly elements, David does not here hesitate to set forth to them, for the confirmation of their faith, the sumptuous building of the temple, to assure them that it was not a useless theater; but that when they rightly worshipped God in it, according to the appointment of his word, they stood as it were in his presence, and would actually experience that he was near them. The amount of what is stated is, that in proportion as the temple which God had commanded to be built to him upon mount Sion, surpassed the tabernacle in magnificence, it would be so much the brighter a mirror of the glory and power of God dwelling among the Jews. In the meantime, as David himself burned with intense desire for the erection of the temple, so he wished to inflame the hearts of all the godly with the same ardent desire, that, aided by the rudiments of the law, they might make more and more progress in the fear of God. He terms the gates, everlasting, because the promise of God secured their continual stability. The temple excelled in materials and in workmanship, but its chief excellence consisted in this, that the promise of God was engraven upon it, as we shall see in Ps 132:14, “This is my rest for ever.” In terming the gates everlasting, the Psalmist, at the same time, I have no doubt, makes a tacit contrast between the tabernacle and the temple. The tabernacle never had any certain abiding place, but being from time to time transported from one place to another, was like a wayfaring man. When, however, mount Sion was chosen, and the temple built, God then began to have there a certain and fixed place of abode. By the coming of Christ, that visible shadow vanished, and it is therefore not wonderful that the temple is no longer to be seen upon mount Sion, seeing it is now so great as to occupy the whole world. If it is objected, that at the time of the Babylonish captivity the gates which Solomon had built were demolished, I answer, God’s decree stood fast, notwithstanding that temporary overthrow; and by virtue of it, the temple was soon after rebuilt; which was the same as if it had always continued entire. The Septuagint has from ignorance corrupted this passage. 550 The Hebrew word ראשים, rashim, which we have rendered heads, is no doubt sometimes taken metaphorically for princes; but the word your, which is here annexed to it, sufficiently shows that we cannot draw from it another sense than this — that the gates lift up their heads, otherwise we must say, Your princes. Some, therefore, think that kings and magistrates are here admonished of their duty, which is to open up the way, and give entrance to God. This is a plausible interpretation, but it is too much removed from the design and words of the prophet. Above all, from the natural sense of the words, we may perceive how foolishly and basely the Papists have abused this passage for the confirmation of the gross and ridiculous notion by which they introduce Christ as knocking at the gate of the infernal regions, in order to obtain admission. 551 Let us, therefore, learn from this, to handle the holy word of God with sobriety and reverence, and to hold Papists in detestation, who, as it were, make sport of corrupting and falsifying it in this manner, by their execrable impieties. 552
8. Who is this King of glory? etc The praises by which the power of God is here magnified are intended to tell the Jews that he did not sit idle in his temple, but took up his abode in it, in order to show himself ready to succor his people. It is to be observed, that there is great weight both in the interrogation, and in the repetition of the same sentence. The prophet assumes the person of one who wonders thereby to express with greater effect that God comes armed with invincible power to maintain and save his people, and to keep the faithful in safety under his shadow. We have already said, that when God is spoken of as dwelling in the temple, it is not to be understood as if his infinite and incomprehensible essence had been shut up or confined within it; but that he was present there by his power and grace, as is implied in the promise which he made to Moses,
“In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee,” (Ex 20:24.)
That this was no vain and empty promise, but that God truly dwelt in the midst of the people, is what the faithful experienced who sought him not superstitiously, as if he had been fixed to the temple, but made use of the temple and of the service which was performed in it for elevating their hearts to heaven. The amount of what is stated is, that whenever the people should call upon God in the temple, it would manifestly appear, from the effect which would follow, that the ark of the covenant was not a vain and an illusory symbol of the presence of God, because he would always stretch forth his omnipotent arm for the defense and protection of his people. The repetition teaches us that true believers cannot be too constant and diligent in meditation on this subject. The Son of God, clothed with our flesh, has now shown himself to be King of glory and Lord of hosts, and he is not entered into his temple only by shadows and figures, but really and in very deed, that he may dwell in the midst of us. There is, therefore, nothing to hinder us from boasting that we shall be invincible by his power. Mount Sion, it is true, is not at this day the place appointed for the sanctuary, and the ark of the covenant is no longer the image or representation of God dwelling between the cherubim; but as we have this privilege in common with the fathers, that, by the preaching of the word and the sacraments, we may be united to God, it becomes us to use these helps with reverence; for if we despise them by a detestable pride, God cannot but at length utterly withdraw himself from us.
“Son contenu.” — Note, Fr. marg. “That is, its contents.”
“Qu’adonc ils entrerent en ferme et paisible possession de l’honneur que Dieu leur a fait par dessus les autres nations.” — Fr.
“Car a quelle fin font produits des fruits de tant de sortes, et en telle abondance, et qu’il y a tant de vieux de plaisance, si non pour l’usage et commodite des hommes?” — Fr.
“C’est contre la nature des deux elemens.” — Fr.
“Il n’en fait yci que bien petite mention et comme en passant.” — Fr. “He here only slightly adverts to this subject, and as it were in passing.”
“Comme nous s’avons que c’est leur coustume de s’eslever par orgueil a cause des titres qu’ils prenent sans avoir l’effect, se contentans de porter seulement les marques par dehors.” — Fr.
“Par ainsi il est yci requis des serviteurs de Dieu, que quand ils jurent, ce soit avec reverence et en bonne conscience.” — Fr.
The textual reading is נפשו, naphshiv, his soul; the marginal reading is נפשו, naphshi, my soul. But the textual reading, from its clearness and simplicity, is, without doubt, the correct one. “The points,” says Hammond, “direct to render נפשת my soul, and so the interlinear reads anilmain roeare, my soul or life, as if it were making God the speaker of this verse, and then it is God’s life or soul. But the text writing וnot י, and the context agreeing with it, the punctuation must, in reason, give place; and, accordingly, all the ancient interpreters appear to have read it נפשו, his soul, meaning by that his own soul, or the soul of the swearer.”
“Asfavoir, Jacob.” — Fr. “Namely, Jacob.”
“Lequel toutesfois ils fuyent par leurs destours et faux semblans.” — Fr.
He first says, “That seek him,” and next, “That seek thy face.”
The Septuagint reads, Αρατε πύλὰς οἱ ἄρχοντες ὑμῶν, which may be rendered, “Ye princes, lift up your gates.” The reading of the Vulgate is similar: “Attollite portas principes vestras“ and so is that of the Arabic and Ethiopic. But that rendering, as Calvin justly observes, inadmissible; for in the Hebrew text, the affix כם, kem, your, is joined to ראשי, roshey, heads, and not to שערים, shearim, gates. Although, however the reading of the Septuagint may be translated as above, “Ye princes, lift up your gates,” Hammond thinks it more probable, that the translators intended οἱ ἄρχοντες ὑμῶν, your princes, to represent ראשיכם, rashekem, as myertin, by mistake, the construction of the sentence, so your heads, as to give this reading, “Your heads, or princes, lift up the gates, instead of, “Ye gates, lift up your heads.”
“Par lesquels ils introduissent Christ frappant a la porte pour entrer les enfers.” — Fr.
“Qui comme sacrileges execrables tienent pour jeu de la corrompre et falsifier en ceste sorte.” — Fr.