Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 8: Psalms, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
This psalm, for the most part, is similar to the preceding. The prophet, oppressed with numerous wrongs, and finding no succor in the world, implores the aid of God, entreating him to undertake the cause of a man unrighteously afflicted, and to assert his innocence. And as his contest was with hypocrites, he appeals to the judgment of God, sharply reproving them for making a false profession of God’s name. In the conclusion, as if he had obtained his wish, he promises a sacrifice of praise to God for his deliverance.
A Psalm of David.
1. Judge me, O Jehovah! because I have walked in mine integrity, and trusted in Jehovah, I shall not stumble. 2. Prove me, O Jehovah! and try me; search my reins and my heart. 3. For thy goodness is before mine eyes: I have therefore walked in thy truth. 4. I have not sat with vain men, neither will I walk with deceitful men.
1. Judge me, O Jehovah! I have just said, that David betakes himself to the judgment of God, because he found neither equity nor humanity among men. The Hebrew word which is rendered to judge, signifies to undertake the cognisance of a cause. The meaning here, therefore, is as if David called upon God to be the defender of his right. 567 When God leaves us for a time to the injuries and petulance of our enemies, he seems to neglect our cause; but when he restrains them from assailing us at their pleasure he clearly demonstrates that the defense of our cause is the object of his care. Let us, therefore, learn from the example of David, when we are destitute of man’s aid, to have recourse to the judgment-seat of God, and to rely upon his protection. The clause which follows is variously explained by interpreters. Some read it in connection with the first clause, Judge me, O Jehovah! because I have walked in mine integrity; but others refer it to the last clause, Because I have walked in mine integrity, therefore I shall not stumble. In my opinion, it may be properly connected with both. As it is the proper work of God to maintain and defend righteous causes, the Psalmist, in constituting him his defender, summons him as the witness of his integrity and trust, and thus conceives the hope of obtaining his aid. If, on the other hand, any one thinks that the clauses should be separated, it seems most probable that this sentence, judge me, O Lord! should be read by itself; and then that the second prayer should follow, that God would not allow him to stumble, because he had behaved himself inoffensively and uprightly, etc. But there is a force in the possessive pronoun my, which interpreters have overlooked. For David does not simply aver that he had been upright, but that he had constantly proceeded in an upright course, without being driven from his purpose, however powerful the devices by which he had been assailed. When wicked men attack us with a view to overwhelm us, either by force or fraud, we know how difficult it is to preserve always the same fortitude. We place our hope of victory in endeavoring resolutely and vigorously to oppose force to force, and art to art. And this is a temptation which so much the more affects honest and steady men, who are otherwise zealous to do well, when the cruelty of their enemies compels them to turn aside from the right path. Let us, therefore, learn from the example of David, even when an opportunity of injuring our enemies is offered us, and when by various methods they force and provoke us, to remain firm in our course, and not suffer ourselves to be diverted in any manner from persevering in the path of our integrity.
2. Prove me, 568 O Jehovah! The more that David observed himself basely and undeservedly pursued with calumnies, the more powerfully was he excited by the vehemence of his grief fearlessly to assert his rectitude. Nor does he merely clear himself of outward sins; he glories also in the uprightness of his heart, and the purity of its affections, tacitly comparing himself, at the same time, with his enemies. As they were gross hypocrites, proudly boasting of their reverence for God, he lays open before him their shameless effrontery and hardihood. This protestation, too, shows how intimately acquainted he was with himself, when he durst offer to submit the whole recesses of his heart to the examination of God. It is to be observed, however, that it was the wickedness of his enemies which forced him to commend himself so much. Had he not been unjustly condemned by men, he would have humbly deprecated such an examination, as he well knew, notwithstanding his zeal to act aright, that he was far from perfection. But when he felt himself to be falsely accused, the injustice and cruelty of men emboldened him to appeal to God’s judgment-seat without hesitation. And as he knew that an external appearance of innocence was of no avail there, he brings forward the honest uprightness of his heart. The distinction which some make here, that the heart signifies the higher affections, and the reins those that are sensual (as they term them) and more gross, is more subtle than solid. We know that the Hebrews understood by the term reins that which is most secret in men. David, therefore, conscious of his innocence, offers the whole man to the examination of God; not like careless, or rather stupid men, who, flattering themselves, imagine that they will deceive God with their pretences. It is evident, on the contrary, that he had honestly and thoroughly searched himself, before he presented himself with such confidence in the divine presence. And this we must especially bear in mind, if we would desire to obtain the approbation of God, that when unjustly persecuted, we must not only abstain from retaliation, but also persevere in a right spirit.
3. For thy goodness is before mine eyes. This verse may be viewed as one sentence, or divided into two parts, but with almost the same sense. If the former reading is adopted, both the verbs will be emphatic, after this manner: ”Because thy goodness, O Lord, has been ever before mine eyes, and I have trusted in thy faithfulness, I have restrained all wicked lusts in my heart, lest, provoked by the malice of mine enemies, I should be forced to retaliate.” By this interpretation there would be the rendering of a cause. The other exposition, also, is not unsuitable, namely, “Because thy goodness has been before mine eyes, I have walked in the truth which thou commandest.” In this case the conjunction, as is common among the Hebrews, is superfluous. But although this exposition is allied to the former, I would rather prefer one less remote from the words. As it is a rare and difficult virtue, not only to refrain one’s self from wicked actions, when greatly tempted thereto, but also to preserve integrity of heart; the prophet declares in what manner he pursued his course in the midst of such powerful temptations, telling us that it was by setting the goodness of God, which so carefully preserves his servants, before his eyes, lest, declining to evil practices, he might deprive himself of his protection; and by confiding in his faithfulness, he possessed his soul in patience, firmly persuaded that God would never forsake his faithful people who trusted in him. And certainly, had he not relied upon the goodness of God, he could not have so constantly prosecuted the path of integrity amidst such numerous and such severe assaults. It is, indeed, a remarkable difference between the children of God and worldly men, that the former, in the hope of a favorable issue at the Lord’s hand, rely upon his word, and are not driven by restlessness to mischievous practices; while the latter, although they maintain a good cause, yet because they are ignorant of the providence of God, are hurried hither and thither; follow unlawful counsels; betake themselves to craftiness; and, in short, have no other object than to overcome evil with evil. Whence, accordingly, their miserable and sorrowful, and often their tragical ends, but because, despising the favor of God, they give themselves up to cunning and deceit? In short, David was steady in preserving his uprightness, because he had resolved that God should be his guide. In the first place, therefore, he mentions his goodness, and afterwards he adds, his truth, because his goodness, which enables us to walk with unyielding courage in the midst of all temptations, is only known to us by his promises.
4. I have not sat with vain men. He again declares the very great dissimilarity which existed between him and his adversaries. For the contrast is always to be observed, that wicked men, by all the harm and mischief they wrought against him, could never drive him from the path of rectitude. This verse might likewise be joined with the former, as if completing the sentence, in this way, That David, by confiding in the favor of God, had withdrawn himself from deceivers. The words, sitting and walking, denote sharing in counsel and fellowship in working, according to what is said in the first psalm. David denies that he had any intercourse with vain and deceitful men. And certainly the best remedy to recall and save us from the assembly of the wicked is to fix our eyes upon God’s goodness; for he who walks in the confidence of God’s protection, committing all events to his providence, will never imitate their deceitfulness. Those whom he denominates in the first clause, men of vanity, he soon after terms נעלמים, naälamim, that is, close and wrapped up in craftiness. 569 For in this consists the vanity of dissimulation, that deceitful men conceal in their hearts another thing than that which their tongues declare. It is, however, absurd to derive this word from עלם, alam, to play, for it is out of place here to compare their impostures to children’s play. I confess, indeed, that those who give themselves to craftiness are mockers; but why have recourse to such a forced exposition, when it is plain that the word shows the source from which all lying and deceit proceed? Thus faith, which steadily looks to God’s promises, is aptly opposed to all the crooked and iniquitous counsels in which unbelief involves us as often as we ascribe not proper honor to the guardianship of God. David teaches, by his own example, that we have not the slightest cause to fear that our integrity will make us a prey to the ungodly, when God promises us safety under his hand. The children of God, indeed, are prudent, but their prudence is altogether different from that of the flesh. Under the guidance and government of the Holy Spirit, they take every necessary precaution against snares, but in such a manner as not to practice any craftiness.
5. I hate the assembly of transgressors, and I will not sit with the wicked. 6. I will wash my hands in purity, 570 and will encompass thine altar, O Jehovah! 7. That I may make men to hear the voice of thy praise, and tell them of all thy wonderful works.
5. I hate the assembly. The Psalmist protests again how greatly he abhorred the ungodly. Formerly he denied that he had any fellowship with them; now he still more explicitly declares that he fled from their company with loathing, for that is the meaning of the phrase, I hate. It is indeed true, that the wicked are everywhere hated; but how few withdraw themselves from them, that they may not imitate their vices! David asserts both; he tells us that he hated their society, and that he had no communion with them, from which it appears that he warred not so much with their persons as with their evil doings. He mentions also as another qualification, that he shunned the wicked in such a manner as not on that account to forsake the congregation of God, or withdraw himself from the company of those with whom he was commanded by divine appointment to associate. Many err in this way grievously; imagining when they see the evil mingled with the good, that they will be infected with pollution, unless they immediately withdraw themselves from the whole congregation. This preciseness drove the Donatists of old, and prior to them the Cathari and the Novatians, into mischievous schisms. In our own times, too, the Anabaptists, from a similar conceit, have separated themselves from the sacred assemblies, because they reckoned them not so free from all defilement as could have been wished. Moreover, the Donatists made themselves a laughing-stock in a certain process, by tenaciously clinging to mere words. When an assembly was held to settle dissensions, and they were invited by the president of the meeting, with a view to do honor to them, to take a seat, they replied, they would stand, because it was not lawful to “sit with the wicked.” Why then, wittily replied Augustine, did your conscience permit you to come in amongst us? for the one is written as well as the other, I will not go in to the wicked, neither will I sit with the ungodly. David, therefore, prudently moderates his zeal, and while separating himself from the ungodly, ceases not to frequent the temple, as the divine commandment and the order prescribed in the law required. When he denominates them the assembly of the ungodly, we may unquestionably conclude, that their number was not few; nay, it is probable that they flaunted about at that time, as if they alone were exalted above the people of God, and were lords over them: yet this did not prevent David from coming as usual to the sacrifices. Public care, indeed, is to be used that the Church be not defiled by such wickedness, and every man ought privately to endeavor, in his own place, that his remissness and forbearance do not cherish the disorders which these vices occasion. Although, however, this strictness should not be exercised with that care which is necessary, there is nothing in this to hinder any of the faithful from piously and holily remaining in the fellowship of the Church. It is to be observed, in the meantime, that what retained David, was his communion with God and with sacred things.
6. I will wash my hands in purity. Referring, in these words, to the ordinary use of the sacrifices, he makes a distinction between himself and those who professed to offer the same divine worship, and thrust themselves forward in the services of the sanctuary, as if they alone had the sole right to perform them. As David, therefore, and these hypocrites were one in this respect, that they entered the sanctuary, and surrounded the sacred altar together, he proceeds to show that he was a true worshipper, declaring, that he not only diligently attended to the external rites, but came to worship God with unfeigned devotion. It is obvious that he alludes to the solemn rite of washing which was practiced under the law. 571 He, accordingly, reproves the gross superstition of hypocrites, who in seeking only the purification of water, neglected true purification; whereas it was God’s design, in the appointment of the outward sign, to put men in mind of their inward pollution, and thus to encourage them to repentance. The outward washing alone, instead of profiting hypocrites, kept them at a greater distance from God. When the Psalmist, therefore, says, I will wash my hands in innocence, he intimates that they only gather more pollution and filth by their washings. The Hebrew word נקיון, nikkayon, signifies the cleanness of any thing, and is figuratively used for innocence. We thus see, that as hypocrites derive no moral purity whatever from their washings, David mocks at the labor with which they vainly toil and torment themselves in such rites. However high, therefore, the wicked may be exalted in the Church, and though crowds of them should fill our sanctuaries, let us, after the example of David, celebrate the outward profession of our faith in such a manner as not deceitfully to substitute its external rites in the room of true devotion. Thus shall we be pure and free from all stain of wickedness. Moreover, as the people were not permitted to touch the altar, David uses the word encompass. 572
7. That I may make men to hear, etc In these words, he shows that he referred the sacrifices to their proper use and design, which hypocrites were far from doing. They neither know, nor do they consider, for what purpose God appointed the services of worship, but think it sufficient to thrust themselves into the divine presence with the pomp and form of their dissimulation. David, therefore, wishing to distinguish spiritual worship from that which is fictitious and counterfeit, affirms that he came into the sanctuary to set forth the praise of God’s name. There is, however, a synecdoche in his words, as only one kind of worship is mentioned, although, in offering the sacrifices, the exercise of repentance and faith was required, as well as the giving of thanks. But as the ultimate design of the sacrifices, or at least their principal object was to celebrate the goodness of God in thus acknowledging his blessings, there was no impropriety in comprehending the other parts of worship under this. Thus, in Ps 50:14, the sacrifice of praise is preferred to all external ceremonies, as if the whole of devotion consisted in it alone. Likewise in Ps 116:12, it is said, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.” Moreover, that he may the better commend the acknowledged power of God, and more impressively extol his benefits, David employs the phrase wondrous; as if he had said, that it was in no ordinary way that God had helped him.
8. O Jehovah! I have loved the habitation of thy house, 573 and the dwelling-place of thy glory. 9. Gather not my soul with wicked men, nor my life with blood; 574 10. For in their hands is maliciousness, and their right hand is full of bribes. 11. But I will walk in mine integrity: redeem me, and be merciful to me.
8. O Jehovah! I have loved, etc In this verse he confirms what he had said before, that he came not into the sanctuary in a careless manner, but with serious devotion. Irreligious men, although they often resort to the sacred assemblies, frequent them merely as lurking places, where they may escape the eye of God. On the contrary, the truly pious and pure in heart resort to them, not for the sake of vain ostentation, but as they are sincerely bent on seeking God, they willingly and affectionately employ the helps which he there affords them; and the advantage which they derive from them creates love to them in their hearts, and longings after them. This declaration farther shows, that however David excelled others in faith, yet he was not without fear lest the violence of his enemies might deprive him of the ordinary means of instruction which God had conferred on his Church. He felt his need of the Church’s common discipline and order, and he therefore anxiously labored to retain his enjoyment of them. From this we infer the impious pride of those who look with contempt on the services of religion as unnecessary, although David himself could not live without them. Another consideration, indeed, existed in those days, I confess, while the law, like a schoolmaster, held the ancient people in a state of servitude compared with ours. Our case, however, is one with theirs in this respect, that the weakness of our faith requires help as well as theirs. And as God for this purpose has appointed the sacraments, as well as the whole order of the Church, woe to the pride of those who recklessly desert the services which we perceive to have been held in such high esteem by the pious servants of God. The Hebrew word מעון, me-on, according to some, is derived from a word 575 which signifies an eye; and they translate it comeliness, or appearance. This is the translation of the Septuagint. 576 But as the word is almost every where used to signify a dwelling-place, which is more simple, I prefer to retain it. The sanctuary is called God’s house, and the dwelling-place of his glory; and we know how frequently expressions of this kind are employed in Scripture to bear testimony to the presence of God. Not that God either dwelt in a tent, or wished to confine the minds of his people to earthly symbols; but it was needful to remind the faithful of God’s present goodness, that they might not think they sought him in vain, as we have elsewhere already said. Now, that God’s glory may dwell among us, it is necessary that a lively image of it should shine forth in word and sacraments. From this it follows, that the temples which are reckoned such among Papists are only filthy brothels of Satan.
9. Gather not my soul with wicked men. Having now affirmed his innocence, he has recourse again to prayer, and calls upon God to defend him. At first sight, indeed, it appears strange to pray that God would not involve a righteous man in the same destruction with the wicked; but God, with paternal indulgence, allows this freedom in prayer, that his people may themselves in this way correct their anxieties, and overcome the fears with which they are tempted. David, when he conceived this supplication, in order to free himself from anxiety and fear, placed before his eyes the righteous judgment of God, to whom nothing is more abhorrent than to mingle good and bad together without distinction. The Hebrew word אספ, asaph, sometimes signifies to gather together, and sometimes to destroy. In this place, I am of opinion it signifies to gather into a heap, as was wont to be the case in a confused slaughter. This was the objection stated by Abraham,
“That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee.” (Ge 18:25,)
Let us remember, therefore, that these forms of prayer are dictated by the Holy Spirit, in order that the faithful may unhesitatingly assure themselves that God still sits in inquisition upon every man’s case, in order to give righteous judgment at last. In the second clause, instead of the phrase, wicked men, he uses bloody men, amplifying what he had said. For although many wicked men rush not all at once to murder, yet in process of time they harden themselves to cruelty; nor does Satan allow them to rest until he precipitate them into deeds of blood.
10. For in their hands is maliciousness. The Hebrew word זמה, zimmah, signifies properly an inward stratagem, or device. But here it is not improperly applied to the hands, because David wished to intimate, that the wicked, of whom he was speaking, not only secretly imagined deceits, but also vigorously executed with their hands the malice which their hearts devised. When he farther says, Their right hands are full of bribes, we may infer from this, that it was not the common people whom he pointed out for observation, but the nobility themselves, who were most guilty of practising this corruption. Although the common and baser sort of men may be hired for reward, and suborned as agents in wickedness, yet we know that bribes are offered chiefly to judges, and other great men who are in power; and we likewise know, that at the time referred to here the worst of men bore sway. It was no wonder, therefore, that David complained that justice was exposed to sale. We are farther admonished by this expression, that those who delight in gifts can scarcely do otherwise than sell themselves to iniquity. Nor is it in vain, unquestionably, that God declares that
“gifts blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the hearts of the righteous,”
11. But I will walk in mine integrity. In this repetition there is to be remarked a circumstance which more clearly illustrates David’s righteousness; namely, that, in the midst of so many temptations, he steadily held on his way. He saw many become suddenly rich by gifts, as we still see those who sit at the helm of affairs accumulating to themselves, in a very brief space, a great abundance of wealth, building sumptuous palaces, and extending their lands far and wide. As no allurements could induce him to imitate their example in this, he gave a proof of rare and heroic virtue. He therefore affirms with truth, that although the world accounted them happy, he had not been seduced from his wonted integrity, that thus it might appear that he ascribed more to the providence of God than to evil practices. He, therefore, beseeches God to redeem him, because, being oppressed with wrongs, and tempted in various ways, he relied only on God, trusting that he would deliver him. From this we may conclude, that he was at this time reduced to great straits. He adds, Be merciful to me, by which he shows that this deliverance flows from the grace of God, as its true source; and we have already seen that the cause is often put for the effect.
12. My foot hath stood in uprightness: 577 in the congregations will I bless thee, O Jehovah!
This verse may be explained in two ways. Some are of opinion that David declares how carefully he had studied uprightness among men; but I rather think that he celebrates the grace of God towards him, and, at the same time, vows his gratitude. By the use of the metaphor, therefore, he tells us that he was preserved in safety. And as he knew that it was the hand of God alone which enabled him to stand, he therefore addresses himself to the exercise of praise and thanksgiving. Nor does he merely say, that he will acknowledge in private the goodness of God bestowed upon him, but in public also, that the assemblies of God’s people may be witnesses of it. It is highly necessary that every one should publicly celebrate his experience of the grace of God, as an example to others to confide in him. 578
Hammond renders the original word, “Plead for, or defend me;” and Green, “Vindicate me.” The word denotes both the act of a judge and of an advocate. This last view agrees very well with the scope of the psalm, which, from the strong assertions of innocence with which it abounds, appears to have been written by David in vindication of himself from various crimes which had been alleged against him; although the particular events to which it refers are not indicated.
The primary signification of the Hebrew word צרף, tsaraph is to try as the refiner tries his gold by dissolving and melting it, In this sense it is used in Ps 66:10, “Thou hast tried us as silver is tried.”
Horsley renders the word, “Those who seek concealment.” In like manner, the Chaldee paraphrases it, “They that hide themselves that they may do evil.”
“Innocence.” — Fr. marg
The washing of the hands in solemn protestation of innocence, on particular occasions, was enjoined by the Mosaic ritual, and was common among the Jews, Deut. 21:6, 7. It was in common use among them before prayer; and the priests, in particular, were not to perform any sacred office in the sanctuary until they had poured water from the laver, which was set in the temple for that purpose, and washed their hands, Ex 40:30-33.
Mudge conjectures that the expression, encompass, is probably taken from the custom of forming a ring round the altar at the time of worship. And Goodwyn informs us, that at the feast of tabernacles the people, on the seventh day, encompassed the altar seven times, carrying branches of palm trees in their hands in remembrance of the overthrow of Jericho, and singing hosannas. — Moses and Aaron, p. 132. David, however, may refer to the practice of the priests, who, when they offered sacrifices, went round about the altar; and his meaning may simply be, that as the priests first washed their hands, and then performed their sacred office at the altar; so he deeply felt the necessity of personal purity, in order to his engaging in the service of God.
The habitation of thy house — a Hebraism for the house which thou inhabitest. This name was given to the tabernacle, 1 Sam. 2:29, 32, and afterwards to Solomon’s temple, 2Ch 36:15.
Hebrew:— men of blood. See Psalm 5:7.
Namely עיך, ayin.
The word which it employs is ἐυπρέρπεια
“C’est, en lieu plain et droict; c’est a dire, seur.” — Fr. marg. “That is, in a plain and straight; that is to say, sure place.”
“Qu’elle soit celebree publiquement; afin qu’elle serve d’exempleaux autres pour se confermer en Dieu.” — Fr.