Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 8: Psalms, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
David having been delivered from great danger, not only renders thanks to God apart by himself, but at the same time invites and exhorts all the pious to perform the same duty. He then confesses that he had flattered himself too confidently in his prosperity, and that his security had justly been chastised. In the third place, having briefly expressed his sorrow, he returns again to thanksgiving.
A psalm sung at the dedication of David’s house.
Interpreters doubt whether this psalm was composed by David, or by some of the prophets after the return of the Jews from the Babylonish captivity; for house means, in their opinion, the temple. But as the title expressly mentions David’s name, it is more probable that it is David’s private house which is here spoken of. Moreover, the supposition entertained by some, that when he was about to dedicate his palace, he was seized with heavy sickness, is founded upon no solid reason. We may rather conjecture from what is stated in sacred history, that as soon as he had built his royal palace, he dwelt in it quietly and at his ease. He said to the prophet Nathan, that he felt ashamed comfortably “to dwell within an house of cedar,” while “the ark of God dwelt under curtains,” (2Sa 7:2.) Besides, to restrict that to sickness which is here spoken generally concerning some kind of danger, is altogether groundless. It is more probable, that Absalom being dead, and his faction extinguished, and the fatal commotion which they had raised put down, David celebrated the divine favor toward him, as one who had returned from exile to his former station in his kingdom. For he mentions that he was chastised by God’s hand, because, exulting too much in his happy estate, and almost intoxicated with it, he falsely and foolishly promised himself entire freedom from adversity. Moreover, when he began to inherit the magnificent and royal palace, of which I have just spoken, his kingdom was yet scarcely restored to peace. It was not yet time, therefore, for forgetfulness of human frailty to creep upon him, which might provoke the wrath of God, and expose him to dangers which might bring him to the very verge of destruction. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to suppose, that in this psalm he celebrates God’s favor to him in restoring him to his former state. It was necessary again to dedicate his house, which had been defiled by the incestuous whoredoms of Absalom, and other wickednesses; and under this word seems to be denoted a double blessing, both his restoration to life and to his kingdom: as if he had said, that after settling the public affairs of his kingdom, he sung this song, and solemnly dedicated his house to God that he might live in his own family. But it must be briefly observed concerning this ceremony of the law, that as we are very slow and cold in thinking of God’s benefits, this exercise was enjoined upon his ancient people, that they might understand that there is no pure and lawful use of any thing without thanksgiving to God. As by offering the first-fruits to God, therefore, they acknowledged that they received the increase of the whole year from him, in like manner, by consecrating their houses to God, they declared that they were God’s tenants, confessing that they were strangers, and that it was he who lodged and gave them a habitation there. 620 If a levy for war, therefore, took place, this was a just cause of exemption, when any one alleged that he had not yet dedicated his house. 621 Besides, they were at the same time admonished by this ceremony, that every one enjoyed his house aright and regularly, only when he so regulated it that it was as it were a sanctuary of God, and that true piety and the pure worship of God reigned in it. The types of the law have now ceased, but we must still keep to the doctrine of Paul, that whatever things God appoints for our use, are still “sanctified by the word of God and prayer,” (1 Tim. 4:4, 5.)
1. I will extol thee, O Jehovah! for thou hast lifted me up, 622 and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me. 2. O Jehovah my God! I have cried to thee, and thou hast healed me. 3. O Jehovah! thou hast brought up my soul from the grave; thou hast quickened me from among those who go down 623 into the pit.
1. I will extol thee, O Jehovah! As David had been brought, as it were, from the grave to the life-giving air, he promises to extol the name of God. It is God who lifts us up with his own hand when we have been plunged into a profound gulf; and therefore it is our duty, on our part, to sing his praises with our tongues. By the foes who, he says, obtained no matter of rejoicing over him, we may understand both domestic and foreign enemies. Although wicked and evil disposed persons flattered him with servile adulation, they at the same time cherished secret hatred against him, and were ready to insult him as soon as an opportunity should occur. In the second verse, he concludes that he was preserved by the favor of God, alleging in proof of this, that when he was at the very point of death he directed his supplications to God alone, and that he immediately felt that he had not done so in vain. When God hears our prayers, it is a proof which enables us to conclude with certainty that he is the author of our salvation, and of the deliverance which we obtain. As the Hebrew word רפא, rapha, signifies to heal, interpreters have been led, from this consideration, to restrict it to sickness. But as it is certain, that it sometimes signifies to restore, or to set up again, and is moreover applied to an altar or a house when they are said to be repaired or rebuilt, it may properly enough mean here any deliverance. The life of man is in danger in many other ways than merely from disease; and we know that it is a form of speech which occurs every where in the Psalms, to say that David was restored to life whenever the Lord delivered him from any grievous and extreme danger. For the sake of amplification, accordingly, he immediately adds, Thou hast brought up my soul from the grave He reckoned that he could not sufficiently express in words the magnitude of the favor which God had conferred upon him, unless he compared the darkness of that period to a grave and pit, into which he had been forced to throw himself hastily, to protect his life by hiding, until the flame of insurrection was quenched. As one restored to life, therefore, he proclaims that he had been marvellously delivered from present death, as if he had been restored to life after he had been dead. And assuredly, it appears from sacred history, how completely he was overwhelmed with despair on every side.
4. Sing unto Jehovah, O ye who are his meek ones! and acknowledge the memorial of his holiness. 624 5. For his anger is only for a moment 625 but life 626 is in his favor; weeping will lodge in the evening, and rejoicing shall come in the morning.
4. Sing unto Jehovah. The better to testify his gratitude, David calls upon all the saints to join with him in singing the praises of God; and under one class he describes the whole body. As he had been preserved beyond all expectation, and by this instance had been instructed concerning God’s continual and infinite goodness towards all the godly, he breaks forth into this exhortation, in which he includes the general deliverance of the whole church as well as his own. He rehearses not only what God had been to himself, but also how bountifully and promptly he is accustomed to assist his people. In short, confirmed by one particular instance he turns his thoughts to the general truth. The meaning of the Hebrew term חסידים, chasidim, which we have translated meekness, by which David often describes the faithful, has been already shown in the sixteenth Psalm. Their heavenly adoption ought to excite them to the exercise of beneficence, that they may imitate their Father’s disposition,
“who maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good,” (Mt 5:45.)
There is nothing in which men resemble God more truly than in doing good to others. The memorial of his holiness, in the second clause of the verse, may refer to the tabernacle; as if David had exhorted all the children of God to go before the ark of the covenant, which was the memorial of God’s presence. The Hebrew letter 627 ל, lamed, often denotes a place. I readily subscribe, however, to their opinion, who think that memorial signifies the same thing as name; for God has assuredly rendered himself worthy of remembrance by his works, which are a bright representation of his glory, the sight of which should stir us up to praise him.
5. For his anger is only for a moment. It is beyond all controversy that life is opposed here to for a moment, and consequently signifies long continuance, or the constant progress of time from day to day. David thus intimates that if God at any time chastise his people, he not only mitigates the rigour of their punishment, but is immediately appeased, and moderates his anger; whereas he prolongs his kindness and favor for a long time. And, as I have already observed, he chose rather to couch his discourse in general terms, than to speak particularly of himself, that the godly might all perceive that this continued manifestation of God’s favor belongs to them. We are hereby taught, however, with how much meekness of spirit, and with what prompt obedience he submitted his back to God’s rod. We know that from the very first bloom of youth, during almost his whole life, he was so tried by a multiplied accumulation of afflictions, that he might have been accounted miserable and wretched above all other men; yet in celebrating the goodness of God, he acknowledges that he had been lightly afflicted only for a short period, and as it were in passing. Now, what inspired him with so great meekness and equanimity of mind was, that he put a greater value upon God’s benefits, and submitted himself more quietly to the endurance of the cross, than the world is accustomed to do. If we are prosperous, we devour God’s blessings without feeling that they are his, or, at least, we indolently allow them to slip away; but if any thing sorrowful or adverse befall us, we immediately complain of his severity, as if he had never dealt kindly and mercifully with us. In short, our own fretfulness and impatience under affliction makes every minute an age; while, on the other hand, our repining and ingratitude lead us to imagine that God’s favor, however long it may be exercised towards us, is but for a moment. It is our own perversity, therefore, in reality, which hinders us from perceiving that God’s anger is but of short duration, While his favor is continued towards us during the whole course of our life. Nor does God in vain so often declare that he is merciful and gracious to a thousand generations, long-suffering, slow to anger, and ready to forgive. And as what he says by the prophet Isaiah has a special reference to the kingdom of Christ, it must be daily fulfilled,
“For a small moment have I afflicted thee, but with everlasting mercies will I gather thee,” (Isa 54:7.)
Our condition in this world, I confess, involves us in such wretchedness, and we are harassed by such a variety of afflictions, that scarcely a day passes without some trouble or grief. Moreover, amid so many uncertain events, we cannot be otherwise than full of daily anxiety and fear. Whithersoever, therefore, men turn themselves, a labyrinth of evils surrounds them. But however much God may terrify and humble his faithful servants, with manifold signs of his displeasure, he always be-sprinkles them with the sweetness of his favor to moderate and assuage their grief. If they weigh, therefore his anger and his favor in an equal balance, they will always find it verified, that while the former is but for a moment, the latter continues to the end of life; nay, it goes beyond it, for it were a grievous mistake to confine the favor of God within the boundaries of this transitory life. And it is unquestionably certain, 628 that none but those whose minds have been raised above the world by a taste of heavenly life really experience this perpetual and uninterrupted manifestation of the divine favor, which enables them to bear their chastisements with cheerfulness. Paul, accordingly, that he may inspire us with invincible patience, refers to this in 2Co 4:17,
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.”
In the meantime, it is to be observed that God never inflicts such heavy and continued chastisements on his people, without frequently mitigating them, and sweetening their bitterness with some consolation. Whoever, therefore, directs his mind to meditation upon the heavenly life, will never faint under his afflictions, however long continued; and, comparing them with the exceeding great and manifold favors of God towards him, he will put such honor on the latter as to judge that God’s goodness, in his estimation, outweighs his displeasure a hundred-fold. In the second clause, David repeats the same thing figuratively: Weeping will lodge in the evening, and rejoicing shall come in the morning He does not simply mean, that the affliction would be only for one night, but that if the darkness of adversity should fall upon the people of God, as it were, in the evening, or at the setting of the sun, light would soon after arise upon them, to comfort their sorrow-stricken spirits. The amount of David’s instruction is, that were we not too headstrong, we would acknowledge that the Lord, even when he appears to overwhelm us for a time with the darkness of affliction, always seasonably ministers matter of joy, just as the morning arises after the night.
6. And in my tranquillity 629 I had said, I shall never be moved. 7. O Jehovah! in thy good pleasure thou hast established strength to my mountain: thou hast hidden thy face, I have been terrified. 8. O Jehovah! I cried to thee, and to my Lord 630 I made my supplication. 9. What profit is there in my blood, when I go down into the pit? 631 Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth? 10. Hear, O Jehovah! and have mercy upon me: O Jehovah! Be thou my helper.
6. And in my tranquillity I had said. This is the confession which I formerly mentioned, in which David acknowledges that he had been justly and deservedly punished for his foolish and rash security, in forgetting his mortal and mutable condition as a man, and in setting his heart too much on prosperity. By the term tranquillity, he means the quiet and flourishing state of his kingdom. Some translate the Hebrew word שלוה, shiluah, which we have rendered tranquillity, by abundance, in which sense it is often used in other places; but the word tranquillity agrees better with the context; as if David had said, When fortune smiled upon me on every side, and no danger appeared to occasion fear, my mind sunk as it were into a deep sleep, and I flattered myself that my happy condition would continue, and that things would always go on in the same course. This carnal confidence frequently creeps upon the saints when they indulge themselves in their prosperity, and so to speak, wallow upon their dunghill. 632 Hence Jeremiah (Jer 31:18) compares himself to a wild bullock before the Lord tamed him and accustomed him to the yoke. This may at first sight appear to be but a small crime, yet we may gather from its punishment how much it is displeasing to God; nor will we wonder at this when we consider the root from which it springs and the fruits which it bears. As deaths innumerable continually hover before our eyes, and as there are so many examples of change to awaken us to fear and caution, those must be bewitched with devilish pride who persuade themselves that their life is privileged above the common lot of the world. They see the whole earth jumbled together in undistinguishing variety, and its individual parts in a manner tossed hither and thither; and yet, as if they did not belong to the human race, they imagine that they shall always continue stable and liable to no changes. Hence that wantonness of the flesh, with which they so licentiously indulge their lusts; hence their pride and cruelty, and neglect of prayer. How indeed should those flee to God, who have no sense of their need to instigate or move them to that? The children of God have also a pious security of their own, which preserves their minds in tranquillity amidst the troublesome storms of the world; like David, who, although he had seen the whole world made to shake, yet leaning upon the promise of God, was bound to hope well concerning the continuance of his kingdom. But although the faithful, when raised aloft on the wings of faith, despise adversity, yet, as they consider themselves liable to the common troubles of life, they lay their account with enduring them, — are every hour prepared to receive wounds, — shake off their sluggishness, and exercise themselves in the warfare to which they know that they were appointed, - and with humility and fear put themselves under God’s protection; nor do they consider themselves safe anywhere else than under his hand. It was otherwise with David, who, when ensnared by the allurements of his prosperous state, promised himself unbroken tranquillity not from the word of God but from his own feelings. The same thing also occurred to the pious King Hezekiah, who, although lately afflicted with a sore disease, as soon as all was well and according to his wish, was hurried by the vanity of the flesh to pride and vain boasting, (2Ch 32:24.) By this we are taught to be on our guard when in prosperity, that Satan may not bewitch us with his flatteries. The more bountifully God deals with any one, the more carefully ought he to watch against such snares. It is not, indeed, probable that David had become so hardened as to despise God and defy all misfortunes, like many of the great men of this world, who, when immersed among their luxuries and surfeitings, insolently scoff at all God’s judgments; but an effeminate listlessness having come over his mind, he became more lukewarm in prayer, nor did he depend on the favor of God; in short, he put too much confidence in his uncertain and transitory prosperity.
7. O Jehovah! of thy good pleasure. This verse describes the difference which exists between the confidence which is founded upon the word of God and the carnal security which springs from presumption. True believers, when they rely upon God, are not on that account neglectful of prayer. On the contrary, looking carefully at the multitude of dangers by which they are beset, and the manifold instances of human frailty which pass before their eyes, they take warning from them, and pour out their hearts before God. The prophet now failed in duty as to this matter; because, by anchoring himself on his present wealth and tranquillity, or spreading his sails to the prosperous winds, he depended not on the free favor of God in such a manner as to be ready at any time to resign into his hands the blessings which he had bestowed upon him. The contrast should be observed between that confidence of stability which arises from the absence of trouble, and that which rests upon the gracious favor of God. When David says that strength was established to his mountain, some interpreters expound it of mount Zion. Others understand by it a stronghold or fortified tower, because in old time fortresses were usually built upon mountains and lofty places. I understand the word metaphorically to signify a solid support, and therefore readily admit that the prophet alludes to mount Zion. David thus blames his own folly, because he considered not, as he ought to have done, that there was no stability in the nest which he had formed for himself, but in God’s good will alone.
Thou hast hidden thy face. Here he confesses, that, after he was deprived of God’s gifts, this served to purge his mind as it were by medicine from the disease of perverse confidence. A marvellous and incredible method surely, that God, by hiding his face, and as it were bringing on darkness, should open the eyes of his servant, who saw nothing in the broad light of prosperity. But thus it is necessary that we be violently shaken, in order to drive away the delusions which both stifle our faith and hinder our prayers, and which absolutely stupify us with a soothing infatuation. And if David had need of such a remedy, let us not presume that we are endued with so good a state of heart as to render it unprofitable for us to be in want, in order to remove from us this carnal confidence, which is as it were diseased repletion which would otherwise suffocate us. We have, therefore, no reason to wonder, though God often hides his face from us, when the sight of it, even when it shines serenely upon us, makes us so wretchedly blind.
8. O Jehovah! I cried unto thee. Now follows the fruit of David’s chastisement. He had been previously sleeping profoundly, and fostering his indolence by forgetfulness; but being now awakened all on a sudden with fear and terror, he begins to cry to God. As the iron which has contracted rust cannot be put to any use until it be heated again in the fire, and beaten with the hammer, so in like manner, when carnal security has once got the mastery, no one can give himself cheerfully to prayer, until he has been softened by the cross, and thoroughly subdued. And this is the chief advantage of afflictions, that while they make us sensible of our wretchedness, they stimulate us again to supplicate the favor of God.
9. What profit is there in my blood? Some explain the verse after this manner: What will it avail me to have lived, unless thou prolongest my life till I shall have finished the course of my vocation? But this exposition seems too strained, especially as the term blood here signifies death, not life: as if David had said, What profit wilt thou derive from my death? This interpretation is farther confirmed by the following clause, where he complains that his lifeless body will then be useless for celebrating the praises of God. And he seems expressly to mention the truth of God, to intimate that it would be unsuitable to the character of God to take him out of the world by an untimely death, before God had accomplished the promise which he had made to him concerning his future heir. As there is a mutual relation between God’s promises and our faith, truth is, as it were, the medium by which God openly shows that he does not merely make liberal promises to us in words, to feed us with empty hopes, and afterwards to disappoint us. Moreover, to obtain a longer life, David draws an argument from the praises of God, to celebrate which we are born and nourished: as if he had said, For what purpose hast thou created me, O God! but that through the whole course of my life I may be a witness and a herald of thy grace to set forth the glory of thy name? But my death will cut short the continuance of this exercise, and reduce me to eternal silence. A question, however, arises here, Does not, it may be said, the death of true believers glorify God as well as their life? We answer, David speaks not simply of death, but adds a circumstance which I have already treated of in the sixth Psalm. As God had promised him a successor, the hope of living longer being taken from him, he had good reason to be afraid lest this promise should be frustrated by his death, and was therefore compelled to exclaim, What profit is there in my blood? It highly concerned the glory of God that he should be preserved alive, until by obtaining his desire, he should be able to bear witness to God’s faithfulness in completely fulfilling his promise to him. By inquiring in the end of the verse, Shall the dust praise thee? he does not mean that the dead are altogether deprived of power to praise God, as I have already shown in the sixth Psalm. If the faithful, while encumbered with a burden of flesh, exercise themselves in this pious duty, how should they desist from it when they are disencumbered, and set free from the restraints of the body? It ought to be observed, therefore, that David does not professedly treat of what the dead do, or how they are occupied, but considers only the purpose for which we live in this world, which is this, that we may mutually show forth to one another the glory of God. Having been employed in this exercise to the end of our life, death at length comes upon us and shuts our mouth.
10. Hear, O Jehovah! In this clause the Psalmist softens and corrects his former complaint; for it would have been absurd to expostulate with God like one who despaired of safety, and to leave off in this fretful temper. Having asked, therefore, with tears, what profit God would derive from his death, he encourages himself to a more unconstrained manner of prayer, and, conceiving new hope, calls upon God for mercy and help. He puts God’s favor, however, in the first place, from whom alone he could expect the help which he implored.
11. Thou hast turned my mourning into dancing; thou hast loosed my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness. 12. That my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent: O Jehovah my God! I will set forth thy praise for ever.
11. Thou hast turned my mourning into dancing. David concludes the psalm as he had begun it, with thanksgiving. He affirms that it was by the help and blessing of God that he had escaped safe; and he then adds, that the final object of his escape was, that he might employ the rest of his life in celebrating the praises of God. Moreover, he shows us that he was not insensible or obdurate under his afflictions, but mourned in heaviness and sorrow; and he also shows that his very mourning had been the means of leading him to pray to God to deprecate his wrath. Both these points are most worthy of our observation, in order, first, that we may not suppose that the saints are guilty of stoical insensibility, depriving them of all feeling of grief; and, secondly, that we may perceive that in their mourning they were exercised to repentance. This latter he denotes by the term sackcloth. It was a common practice among the ancients to clothe themselves with sackcloth when mourning, 633 for no other reason, indeed, than that like guilty criminals, they might approach their heavenly Judge, imploring his forgiveness with all humility, and testifying by this clothing their humiliation and dissatisfaction with themselves. 634 We know also that the orientals were addicted beyond all others to ceremonies. We perceive, therefore, that David, although he patiently submitted himself to God, was not free from grief. We also see that his sorrow was “after a godly sort,” as Paul speaks, (2Co 7:10;) for to testify his penitence he clothed himself with sackcloth. By the term dancing, he does not mean any wanton or profane leaping, but a sober and holy exhibition of joy like that which sacred Scripture mentions when David conveyed the ark of the covenant to its place, (2Sa 6:16.) If we may conjecture, however, we may gather from this, that the great danger of which David speaks in this psalm is by some improperly restricted to sickness, as it was very improbable that he would put on sackcloth when he was confined to a sick-bed. This, indeed, would not be a sufficient reason of itself, but in a doubtful case, as this is, it is not destitute of force. David therefore means, that, laying aside his mourning apparel, he returned from a state of heaviness and sorrow to joy; and this he ascribes to the grace of God alone, asserting that he had been his deliverer.
12. That my glory may sing praise to thee. In this verse he more fully expresses his acknowledgement of the purpose for which God had preserved him from death, and that he would be careful to render him a proper return of gratitude. Some refer the word glory to the body, and some to the soul, or the higher powers of the mind. Others, as the pronoun my, which we have supplied, is not in the Hebrew text, prefer to translate it in the accusative case, supplying the word every man, in this way: That every man may celebrate thy glory; as if the prophet had said, This is a blessing worthy of being celebrated by the public praises of all men. But as all these interpretations are strained, I adhere to the sense which I have given. The Hebrew word כבוד, kebod, which signifies glory, it is well known, is sometimes employed metaphorically to signify the tongue, as we have seen in Ps 16:9. And as David adds immediately after, I will celebrate thy praise for ever, the context demands that he should particularly speak of his own duty in this place. His meaning, therefore, is, O Lord, as I know that thou hast preserved me for this purpose, that thy praises may resound from my tongue, I will faithfully discharge this service to thee, and perform my part even unto death. To sing, and not be silent, is a Hebrew amplification; as if he had said, My tongue shall not be mute, or deprive God of his due praise; it shall, on the contrary, devote itself to the celebration of his glory.
“Se recognoissans estrangers, et que c’estoit luy qui les y logeoit et leur bailloit demeurance.” — Fr.
“Quand l’homme allegoit qu’il n’avoit encores dedid sa maison.” — Fr.
Ainsworth reads, “Thou hast drawn up me,” which he explains to mean, “drawn as out of a pit of waters;” “for,” says he, “this word is used for ‘drawing of waters,’ Ex 2:16; waters signifying troubles.” “דליתבי, Thou hast drawn me up as it were out of a dungeon.” — Rogers’ Book of Psalms.
“D’entre ceux que descendent.” — Fr.
“Ou chantez afin qu’il soit memoire.” — Fr. marg. “Or sing, that he may be remembered.”
Literally, “There is but a moment in his anger;” and this is also the literal rendering of the Hebrew.
“C’est, un long temps.” — Note, Fr. marg. “That is, a long time.”
לזכר, lezeker, at the memorial.
“Et de faict, c’est un poinct tout resolu.” — Fr.
“C’est, en ma prosperite.” — Note, Fr. marg. “That is, in my prosperity.”
Our author here uses Dominus; but in the Hebrew it is יהוה, Yehovah
The Septuagint has “Εἰς διαθοράν” — to corruption. The rendering of Jerome is the same, “In corruptionem.”
“Qu’ils se mignardent en leur prosperite, et par maniere de dire, croupessent sur leur fumier. — Fr.
This custom was not confined to the Israelites. It was practiced also among the heathen nations. An instance of this is recorded in Jon 3:5-8. It appears from Plutarch, that this was also sometimes practiced among the Greeks. The Hebrew word for sackcloth is שק, sak; and it is remarkable that the word sak exists in various languages, denoting the same thing. It shows the unaffected character of real sorrow, leading men to neglect the adorning of their persons, when we find several nations manifesting it by wearing the same dismal garb, and employing a word of the same sound to express it.
“Ne monstrant qu’abjection et desplaisanee d’eux-mesmes. — Fr.