Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 9: Psalms, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
This psalm, the title of which shows it to have been composed by David, contains most profitable instruction. Since the faithful, so long as they pursue their earthly pilgrimage through life, see things strangely confused in the world, unless they assuaged their grief with the hope of a better issue, their courage would soon fail them. The more boldly any man despises God, and runs to every excess in wickedness, so much the more happily he seems to live. And since prosperity appears to be a token of God’s favor towards the ungodly, what conclusion, it may be said, can be drawn from this, but either that the world is governed by chance, and that fortune bears the sovereignty, or else that God makes no difference between the good and the bad? The Spirit of God accordingly confirms and strengthens us in this psalm against the assaults of such a temptation. However great the prosperity which the wicked enjoy for a time, he declares their felicity to be transient and evanescent, and that, therefore, they are miserable, while the happiness of which they boast is cursed; whereas the pious and devoted servants of God never cease to be happy, even in the midst of their greatest calamities, because God takes care of them, and at length comes to their aid in due season. This, indeed, is paradoxical, and wholly repugnant to human reason. For as good men often suffer extreme poverty, and languish long under many troubles, and are loaded with reproaches and wrongs, while the wicked and profligate triumph, and are regaled with pleasures, might we not suppose that God cares not for the things that are done on earth? It is on this account that, as I have already said, the doctrine of this psalm is so much the more profitable; because, withdrawing our thoughts from the present aspect of things, it enjoins us to confide in the providence of God, until he stretch forth his hand to help those who are his servants, and demand of the ungodly a strict account of their lives, as of thieves and robbers who have foully abused his bounty and paternal goodness.
A Psalm of David.
1. Fret not thyself because of the wicked, and be not envious at the workers of iniquity: 2. For they shall soon be cut down like grass; and they shall wither as the green and tender herb. 3. Put thy trust in Jehovah, and do good; dwell in the land, and be fed in truth, [or faithfully. 14 ] 4. And delight thyself in Jehovah, and he will give thee the desires of thy heart. 5. Roll [or devolve] thy ways on Jehovah, and trust in him, and he will bring it to pass. 6. And he will bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgments 15 as the noon day.
1. Fret not thyself because of the wicked. David lays down this as a general principle, that the prosperity of the wicked, in which they greatly rejoice, should on no account vex or disquiet the children of God, because it will soon fade away. On the other hand, although the people of God are afflicted for a time, yet the issue of their afflictions shall be such, that they have every reason to be contented with their lot. Now all this depends upon the providence of God; for unless we are persuaded that the world is governed by him in righteousness and truth, our minds will soon stagger, and at length entirely fail us. David then condemns two sinful affections of the mind, which are indeed closely allied, and the one of which is generated by the other. He first enjoins the faithful not to fret on account of the wicked; and, secondly, that they should not indulge an envious spirit towards them. For, in the first place, when they see the wicked enjoying prosperity, from which it might naturally be supposed that God regards not the affairs of men, there is a danger lest they should shake off the fear of God, and apostatise from the faith. Then another temptation follows, namely, that the influence of the example of the wicked excites in them a desire to involve themselves in the same wickedness with them. This is the natural sense. The Hebrew words, אל-תתחר, al-tithechar, which we have rendered, Fret not thyself, are by some translated, Do not mingle thyself with. 16 But this interpretation is too forced, and may be disproved by the context; for in the eighth verse, where mention is expressly made of wrath and anger, it would surely be absurd to interpret in another sense the same verb which immediately follows these two words, and which is there used in the same sense and for the same end as in this first verse. In the second place, the order which David observes is very natural; for when the prosperity of the wicked has irritated our minds, we very soon begin to envy them their happiness and ease. First, then, he exhorts us to be on our guard, lest a happiness which is only transitory, or rather imaginary, should vex or disquiet us; and, secondly, lest envy should lead us to commit sin. The reason by which he enforces this exhortation is added in the following verse: for if the wicked flourish to-day like the grass of the field, to-morrow they shall be cut down and wither. We need not wonder that this similitude is often to be met with in the sacred writings, since it is so very appropriate; for we see how soon the strength of the grass decays, and that when cast down by a blast of wind, or parched with the heat of the sun, even without being cut by the hand of man, it withers away. 17 In like manner, David tells us that the judgment of God, like a scythe in the hand of man, shall cut down the wicked, so that they shall suddenly perish.
3. Put thy trust in Jehovah, and do good. The inspired writer now goes on, in the second place, to say, that every thing in the end shall be well with the righteous, because they are under the protection of God. But as there is nothing better or more desirable than to enjoy the fostering and protecting care of God, he exhorts them to put their trust in him, and at the same time to follow after goodness and truth. It is not without good reason that he begins with the doctrine of faith, or trust in God; for there is nothing more difficult for men than to preserve their minds in a state of peace and tranquillity, undisturbed by any disquieting fears, whilst they are in this world, which is subject to so many changes. On the other hand, while they see the wicked becoming rich by unjust means, extending their influence, and acquiring power by unrestrained indulgence in sin, it is no less difficult for them steadily to persevere in a life of piety and virtue. Nor is it sufficient merely to disregard those things that are commonly sought after with the greatest eagerness. Some of the philosophers of antiquity were so noble-minded, that they despised riches unjustly acquired, and abstained from fraud and robbery; nay, they held up to ridicule the vain pomp and splendor of the wicked, which the common people look upon with such high admiration. But as they were destitute of faith, they defrauded God of his honor, and so it happened that they never knew what it was to be truly happy. Now, as David places faith first in order, to show that God is the author of all good, and that by his blessing alone prosperity is to be looked for; so it ought to be observed that he connects this with a holy life: for the man who places his whole confidence in God, and gives himself up to be governed by him, will live uprightly and innocently, and will devote himself to doing good.
Dwell in the land This language is much more expressive than if he had promised that the righteous should dwell securely in the land. 18 It is just as if he had led them to the place, and put them in possession of it. Moreover, by these words he declares that they shall long enjoy it. They are, it is true, only strangers or sojourners in this world, yet the hand of the Lord is stretched forth to protect them, so that they live in security and peace. This David again confirms by the following clause, Thou shalt be fed in truth Assured of the protection of God, he exhorts them to place entire and unsuspecting confidence in him. It is surprising to find how interpreters have wrested, and as it were mangled this clause, by the different meanings they have put upon it. Some take the verb to feed in an active signification; and others understand the expression to feed on faith as denoting to cherish within the heart the promises of God. Others are of opinion that David exhorts us to feed our brethren with faith by ministering to them the pure word of God, which is the spiritual food of the soul. Others render the term for faith in the sense of sincerity, so that the expression to feed on faith would signify to behave in an upright and honest manner among men. But the scope and connection of the passage necessarily require, and it is quite in accordance with the nature of the Hebrew language, that the verb רעה, re-eh, should be taken in a passive signification, Be fed This, too, is the opinion of the greater part of commentators, who, notwithstanding, afterwards differ in explaining its meaning. Some of them adopt the interpretation, that we are fed with faith, when the promises of God suffice us, and we are satisfied with them. Others give this explanation, Feed thyself with the fruit of faith, because God will indeed show that we have not believed his word in vain. Others explain it in this way, Let truth be thy food, and let nothing give thee greater pleasure than to converse sincerely and frankly with thy neighbors. There is still another interpretation which, although in some respects different, is similar to the preceding, namely, Live not upon spoil, but be content with lawful sustenance; that is to say, with that which is lawfully acquired. 19 It is certainly a shameful and disgraceful thing that so many learned men should have erred in a matter so plain and obvious. 20 Had not every one been led by his own ambition to seek for something new, the true and natural meaning of the prophet would have occurred at once, which is this, Dwell in the land, that thou mayest enjoy it in sure and lasting repose. The Hebrew word אמונה, emunah, not only signifies truth or faith, but also secure continuance for a long period. And who does not see that since the possession of the land was given to the righteous, this latter clause was added by way of exposition?
4. And delight thyself in Jehovah This delight is set in opposition to the vain and deceitful allurements of the world, which so intoxicate the ungodly, that despising the blessing of God, they dream of no other happiness than what presents itself for the time before their eyes. This contrast between the vain and fickle joys with which the world is deluded, and the true repose enjoyed by the godly, ought to be carefully observed; for whether all things smile upon us, or whether the Lord exercise us with adversities, we ought always to hold fast this principle, that as the Lord is the portion of our inheritance, our lot has fallen in pleasant places, 21 as we have seen in Ps. 16:5, 6. We must therefore constantly recall to our minds this truth, that it can never be well with us except in so far as God is gracious to us, so that the joy we derive from his paternal favor towards us may surpass all the pleasures of the world. To this injunction a promise is added, that, if we are satisfied in the enjoyment of God alone, he will liberally bestow upon us all that we shall desire: He will give thee the desires of thy heart. This does not imply that the godly immediately obtain whatever their fancy may suggest to them; nor would it be for their profit that God should grant them all their vain desires. The meaning simply is, that if we stay our minds wholly upon God, instead of allowing our imaginations like others to roam after idle and frivolous fancies, all other things will be bestowed upon us in due season.
5. Roll 22 thy ways upon Jehovah. Here David illustrates and confirms the doctrine contained in the preceding verse. In order that God may accomplish our desires, it behoves us to cast all our cares upon him in the exercise of hope and patience. Accordingly, we are taught from this passage how to preserve our minds in tranquillity amidst anxieties, dangers, and floods of trouble. There can be no doubt, that by the term ways we are here to understand all affairs or businesses. The man, therefore, who, leaving the issue of all his affairs to the will of God, and who, patiently waiting to receive from his hand whatever he may be pleased to send, whether prosperity or adversity, casts all his cares, and every other burden which he bears, into his bosom; or, in other words, commits to him all his affairs, — such a person rolls his ways upon Jehovah Hence, David again inculcates the duty of hope and confidence in God: And trust in him By this he intimates, that we render to him the honor to which he is entitled only when we intrust to him the government and direction of our lives; and thus he provides a remedy for a disease with which almost all men are infected. Whence is it that the children of God are envious of the wicked, and are often in trouble and perplexity, and yield to excess of sorrow, and sometimes even murmur and repine, but because, by involving themselves immoderately in endless cares, and cherishing too eagerly a desire to provide for themselves irrespective of God, they plunge, as it were, into an abyss, or at least accumulate to themselves such a vast load of cares, that they are forced at last to sink under them? Desirous to provide a remedy for this evil, David warns us, that in presuming to take upon us the government of our own life, and to provide for all our affairs as if we were able to bear so great a burden, we are greatly deceived, and that, therefore, our only remedy is to fix our eyes upon the providence of God, and to draw from it consolation in all our sorrows. Those who obey this counsel shall escape that horrible labyrinth in which all men labor in vain; for when God shall once have taken the management of our affairs into his own hand, there is no reason to fear that prosperity shall ever fail us. Whence is it that he forsakes us and disappoints our expectations, if it is not because we provoke him, by pretending to greater wisdom and understanding than we possess? If, therefore, we would only permit him, he will perform his part, and will not disappoint our expectations, which he sometimes does as a just punishment for our unbelief.
6. And he will bring forth thy righteousness as the light This David says, in order to anticipate the misgivings which often trouble us when we seem to lose our labor in faithfully serving God, and in dealing uprightly with our neighbors; nay, when our integrity is either exposed to the calumnies of the wicked, or is the occasion of injury to us from men; for then it is thought to be of no account in the sight of God. David, therefore, declares, that God will not suffer our righteousness to be always hid in darkness, but that he will maintain it and bring it forth to the light; namely, when he will bestow upon us such a reward as we desire. He alludes to the darkness of the night, which is soon dispelled by the dawning of the day; as if he had said, We may be often grievously oppressed, and God may not seem to approve our innocence, yet this vicissitude should no more disturb our minds than the darkness of the night which covers the earth; for then the expectation of the light of day sustains our hope.
7. Be silent to Jehovah, and wait for him; fret not because of the man who prospereth in his way, against the man who commits wickedness. 23 8. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself so as to do evil, 9. For the wicked shall be cut off; but those that wait upon Jehovah shall inherit the earth. 10. Yet a little while; and the wicked shall not be; and thou shalt look upon his place, and shalt not find him. 11. But the meek shall inherit the earth, 24 and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.
7. Be silent to Jehovah. The Psalmist continues the illustration of the same doctrine, namely, that we should patiently and meekly bear those things that usually disquiet our minds; for amid innumerable sources of disquietude and conflict there is need of no small patience. By the similitude of silence, which often occurs in the sacred writings, he declares most aptly the nature of faith; for as our affections rise in rebellion against the will of God, so faith, restoring us to a state of humble and peaceful submission, appeases all the tumults of our hearts. By this expression, 25 therefore, David commands us not to yield to the tumultuous passions of the soul, as the unbelieving do, nor fretfully to set ourselves in opposition to the authority of God, but rather to submit peacefully to him, that he may execute his work in silence. Moreover, as the Hebrew word חול, chul, which we have rendered to wait, sometimes signifies to mourn, and sometimes to wait, the word התחולל, hithcholel, in this place is understood by some as meaning to mourn moderately, or to bear sorrow patiently. It might also be rendered more simply to mourn before God, in order that he might be a witness of all our sorrows; for when the unbelieving give way to doubt and suspense, they rather murmur against him than utter their complaints before him. As, however, the other interpretation is more generally received, namely, that David is exhorting us to hope and patience, I adhere to it. The prophet Isaiah also connects hope with silence in the same sense, (Isa 30:15.)
David next repeats what he had said in the first verse, Fret not because of the man who prospereth in his way, or who brings his ways to a happy issue; nor against the man who behaveth himself wickedly, or who accomplishes his devices Of these two interpretations of this last clause, the latter is more in accordance with the scope of the psalm. I confess, indeed, that the word מזמות mezimmoth, is commonly taken in a bad sense for fraud and stratagem. But as זמם zamam, sometimes signifies in general to meditate, the nature of the Hebrew language will bear this meaning, that to execute his devices is of the same import as to effect what he has purposed. Now we see that these two things are connected, namely to dispose his ways according to his desires, or to prosper in his way, and to accomplish his devices It is a very great temptation to us and difficult to bear, when we see fortune smiling upon the ungodly, as if God approved of their wickedness; nay, it excites our wrath and indignation. David, therefore, not contented with a short admonition, insists at some length upon this point.
The accumulation of terms which occurs in the next verse, in which he lays a restraint as with a bridle upon anger, allays wrath and assuages passion, it is not superfluous; but, as in necessary, he rather prescribes numerous remedies for a disease which it is difficult to cure. By this means, he reminds us how easily we are provoked, and how ready we are to take offence, unless we lay a powerful restraint upon our tumultuous passions, and keep them under control. And although the faithful are not able to subdue the lusts of the flesh without much trouble and labour, whilst the prosperity of the wicked excites their impatience, yet this repetition teaches us that we ought unceasingly to wrestle against them; for if we steadily persevere, we know that our endeavors shall not be in vain in the end. I differ from other commentators in the exposition of the last clause. They translate it, at least to do evil; as if David meant that we should appease our anger lest it should lead us to do mischief. But as the particle אך, ach, which they translate at least, is often used affirmatively in Hebrew, I have no doubt that David here teaches, that it cannot be otherwise than that the offense which we take at the prosperity of the wicked should lead us to sin, unless we speedily check it; as it is said in another Psalm,
“God will break the cords of the ungodly, lest the righteous put forth their hands unto iniquity,” (Ps 125:3.)
9. For the wicked shall be cut off. It is not without cause that he repeatedly inculcates the same thing, namely, that the happiness and prosperity which the ungodly enjoy is only a mask or phantom; for the first sight of it so dazzles our senses, that we are unable to form a proper estimate of what will be its issue, in the light of which alone we ought to judge of the value of all that has preceded. But the contrast between the two clauses of the verse ought to be observed. First, in saying that the wicked shall be cut off, he intimates that they shall flourish fresh and green till the time of their destruction shall arrive; and, secondly, in allotting the earth to the godly, saying, They shall inherit the earth, he means that they shall live in such a manner as that the blessing of God shall follow them, even to the grave. Now, as I have already said, the present condition of men is to be estimated by the state in which it will terminate. From the epithet by which he distinguishes the children of God, we learn that they are exercised by a severe conflict for the trial of their faith; for he speaks of them, not as righteous or godly, but as those that wait upon the Lord. What purpose would this waiting serve, unless they groaned under the burden of the cross? Moreover, the possession of the earth which he promises to the children of God is not always realised to them; because it is the will of the Lord that they should live as strangers and pilgrims in it; neither does he permit them to have any fixed abode in it, but rather tries them with frequent troubles, that they may desire with greater alacrity the everlasting dwelling-place of heaven. The flesh is always seeking to build its nest for ever here; and were we not tossed hither and thither, and not suffered to rest, we would by and by forget heaven and the everlasting inheritance. Yet, in the midst of this disquietude, the possession of the earth, of which David here speaks, is not taken away from the children of God; for they know most certainly that they are the rightful heirs of the world. Hence it is that they eat their bread with a quiet conscience, and although they suffer want, yet God provides for their necessities in due season. Finally, although the ungodly labor to effect their destruction, and reckon them unworthy to live upon the earth, yet God stretches forth his hand and protects them; nay, he so upholds them by his power, that they live more securely in a state of exile, than the wicked do in their nests to which they are attached. And thus the blessing, of which David speaks, is in part secret and hidden, because our reason is so dull, that we cannot comprehend what it is to possess the earth; and yet the faithful truly feel and understand that this promise is not made to them in vain, since, having fixed the anchor of their faith in God, they pass their life every day in peace, while God makes it manifest in their experience, that the shadow of his hand is sufficient to protect them.
10 Yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be. This is a confirmation of the preceding verse. It might well have been objected, that the actual state of things in the world is very different from what David here represents it, since the ungodly riot in their pleasures, and the people of God pine away in sickness and poverty. David, therefore, wishing to guard us against a rash and hasty judgment, exhorts us to be quiet for a little while, till the Lord cut off the wicked entirely, and show the efficacy of his grace towards his own people. What he requires then on the part of the true believers is, that in the exercise of their wisdom they should suspend their judgment for a time, and not stop at every trifle, but exercise their thoughts in meditation upon divine providence, until God show out of heaven that the full time is come. Instead, however, of describing them as those who wait upon the Lord, he now speaks of them as the meek; and this he does not without good reason: for unless a man believe that God preserves his own people in a wonderful manner, as if they were like sheep among wolves, he will be always endeavoring to repel force by force. 26 It is hope alone, therefore, which of itself produces meekness; for, by restraining the impetuosity of the flesh, and allaying its vehemence, it trains to equanimity and patience those who submit themselves to God. From this passage it would seem, that Christ has taken that which is written in Mt 5:5. The word peace is generally employed in the Hebrew to denote the prosperous and happy issue of things; yet another sense will agree better with this place, namely, that while the ungodly shall be agitated with inward trouble, and God shall encompass them on every side with terror, the faithful shall rejoice in the abundance of peace. It is not meant that they are exempted from trouble, but they are sustained by the tranquillity of their minds; so that accounting all the trials which they endure to be only temporary, they now rejoice in hope of the promised rest.
12. The wicked plotteth against the righteous, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth. 13. But the Lord 27 shall laugh at him; for he seeth that his day is coming. 14. The wicked draw their sword, and bend their bow, to cast down the poor and needy, and to slay those that are of upright ways. 15. But their sword shall enter into their own heart, and their bow shall be broken.
12. The wicked plotteth against the righteous. David here anticipates an objection which might have been taken to the preceding verse. Where, it might be said, can tranquillity and joy be found when the wicked are mad with rage, and plot every kind of mischief against the children of God? And how shall they cherish good hope for the future who see themselves surrounded with innumerable sources of death? David therefore replies, That although the life of the godly should be assailed by many dangers, yet they are secure in the aid and protection of God; and that however much the wicked should plot against them, they shall be continually preserved. Thus, the design of David is to obviate our fears, lest the malice of the ungodly should terrify us above measure, as if they had the power of doing with us according to their pleasure. 28 He indeed confesses that they are not only full of fraud, and expert in deceiving, but also that they burn with anger, and a raging desire of doing mischief, when he says, that they plot mischief deceitfully against the righteous, and gnash upon them with their teeth But after making this statement, he immediately adds, that their endeavors shall be vain. Yet he seems to provide very coldly for our consolation under sorrow, for he represents God as merely laughing But if God values highly our salvation, why does he not set himself to resist the fury of our enemies, and vigorously oppose them? We know that this, as has been said in Ps 2:4, is a proper trial of our patience, when God does not come forth at once, armed for the discomfiture of the ungodly, but connives for a time and withholds his hand. But as the eye of sense in such circumstances reckons that he delays his coming too long, and from that delay concludes that he indulges in ease, and feels no interest in the affairs of men, it is no small consolation to be able by the eye of faith to behold him laughing; for then we are assured that he is not seated idly in heaven, nor closes his eyes, resigning to chance the government of the world, but purposely delays and keeps silence because he despises their vanity and folly.
And lest the flesh should still murmur and complain, demanding why God should only laugh at the wicked, and not rather take vengeance upon them, the reason is added, that he sees the day of their destruction at hand: For he seeth that his day 29 is coming. Whence is it that the injuries we sustain from the wickedness of man so trouble us, if it be not that, when not obtaining a speedy redress, we begin to despair of ever seeing a better state of things? But he who sees the executioner standing behind the aggressor with drawn sword no longer desires revenge, but rather exults in the prospect of speedy retribution. David, therefore, teaches us that it is not meet that God, who sees the destruction of the wicked to be at hand, should rage and fret after the manner of men. There is then a tacit distinction here made between God and men, who, amidst the troubles and confusions of the world, do not see the day of the wicked coming, and who, oppressed by cares and fears, cannot laugh, but because vengeance is delayed, rather become so impatient that they murmur and fret. It is not, however, enough for us to know that God acts in a manner altogether different from us, unless we learn to weep patiently whilst he laughs, so that our tears may be a sacrifice of obedience. In the meantime, let us pray that he would enlighten us by his light, for by this means alone will we, by beholding with the eye of faith his laughter, become partakers thereof, even in the midst of sorrow. Some, indeed, explain these two verses in another sense; as if David meant to say, that the faithful live so happily that the wicked envy them. But the reader will now perceive that this is far from the design of the prophet.
14. The wicked draw their sword, and bend their bow. David now goes on to say, that the ungodly, being armed with sword and bow, threaten with death the children of God; and this he does in order to meet the temptation which would otherwise overwhelm them. The promises of God do not have place in a time of quietness and peace, but in the midst of severe and terrible conflicts. And, therefore, David now teaches us that the righteous are not deprived of that peace of which he had spoken a little before, although the wicked should threaten them with instant death. The sentence ought to be explained in this way: Although the wicked draw their swords and bend their bows to destroy the righteous, yet all their efforts shall return upon their own heads, and shall tend to their own destruction. But it is necessary to notice the particular terms in which the miserable condition of the righteous is here described, until God at length vouchsafe to help them. First, they are called poor and needy; and, secondly, they are compared to sheep devoted to destruction, 30 because they have no power to withstand the violence of their enemies, but rather lie oppressed under their feet. Whence it follows, that a uniform state of enjoyment here is not promised to them in this psalm, but there is only set before them the hope of a blessed issue to their miseries and afflictions, in order to console them under them. But as it often happens that the wicked are hated and treated with severity for their iniquity, the Psalmist adds, that those who thus suffered were those who were of upright ways; meaning by this, that they were afflicted without cause. Formerly he described them as the upright in heart, by which he commended the inward purity of the heart; but now he commends uprightness in the conduct, and in fulfilling every duty towards our neighbor; and thus he shows not only that they are unjustly persecuted, because they have done no evil to their enemies, and have given them no cause of offense, but also, that though provoked by injuries, they nevertheless do not turn aside from the path of duty.
In the 15th verse, David is not speaking of the laughter of God, but is denouncing vengeance against the ungodly, just as we have already seen in the second psalm, at the fourth verse, that although God, by conniving at the wicked, has often suffered them for a time to run to every excess in mirth and rioting, yet he at length speaks to them in his anger to overthrow them. The amount of what is stated is, that the ungodly should prevail so little, that the sword which they had drawn should return into their own bowels, and that their bow should be broken in pieces.
16. Better is the little of the righteous than the abundance of many wicked. 31 17. For the arms of the wicked shall be broken; but Jehovah upholdeth the righteous. 18. Jehovah knoweth the days of the upright, and their inheritance shall be everlasting. 19. They shall not be ashamed in the season of adversity; and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.
16. Better is the little of the righteous, etc This verse, without any sufficient reason, has been variously rendered. The word המון, hamon, 32 which is rendered abundance, indeed, sometimes signifies a great multitude of men, and sometimes abundance of things; sometimes, too, an adjective of the plural number is joined to a substantive of the singular number. But those who wrest David’s words to this sense, that a few righteous persons are better than a great multitude of the ungodly, 33 plainly destroy their import, and pervert the meaning of the whole sentence. Nor can I receive the explanation which others have given, that the little which the just man possesses is better than the great abundance of the wicked; for I see no necessity for connecting, contrary to the rules of grammar, the word המון, hamon, which denotes abundance, with the word רבים, rabbim. which signifies many or great, and not with the word רשעים, reshaim, which means wicked I have therefore no doubt; that David here contrasts the limited possessions of one righteous man with the riches and wealth of many wicked men. The Hebrew word רבים, rabbim, however, which I have rendered many, may also be properly taken to denote persons of great authority and power. Certainly, it is not difficult to understand that David means to say, that although the wicked excel in this world, and are enriched with its possessions in great abundance and trust in their riches, yet the little which the just man possesses is far better than all their treasures. From this we learn, that David is here speaking, not so much of external grandeur and wealth, as of the secret blessing of God which truly enriches the righteous; for although they live from hand to mouth, yet are they fed from heaven as it were with manna; while the ungodly are always hungry, or else waste away in the very midst of their abundance.
To this also belongs the reason which is added in the next verse, namely, that there is nothing stable in the world except it be sustained by the power of God; but we are plainly told that the righteous only are upheld by him, and that the power of the ungodly shall be broken Here again we see, that in order to form a right and proper estimate of true felicity, we must look forward to the future, or contemplate by the eye of faith the secret grace of God, and his hidden judgments. Unless we are persuaded by faith that God cherishes us in his bosom as a father does his children, our poverty will always be a source of trouble to us; and, on the other hand, unless we bear in mind what is here said concerning the wicked, that their arms shall be broken, we will make too great account of their present condition. But if this doctrine be deeply fixed in the hearts of the faithful, as soon as they shall have learned to rely upon the divine blessing, the delight and joy which they will experience from their little store shall be equal to the magnanimity with which they shall look down, as it were from an eminence, upon the vast treasures in which the ungodly glory. At the same time, we are here admonished, that whilst the ungodly rely upon their own strength, and proudly boast of it, we ought to wait patiently till God arise and break their arms in pieces. As for us, the best consolation which we could have in our infirmity is, that God himself upholds and strengthens us.
18 Jehovah knoweth the days of the upright 34 It is not without good reason that David so frequently inculcates this doctrine, that the righteous are blessed because God provides for their necessities. We see how prone the minds of men are to distrust, and how much they are vexed by an excess of cares and anxieties from which they are unable to extricate themselves, while, on the other hand, they fall into another error in being more anxious regarding the future than there is any reason for; and yet, however active and industrious in the formation of their plans, they are often disappointed in their expectations, and not unfrequently fail altogether of success. Nothing, therefore, is more profitable for us than to have our eyes continually set upon the providence of God, which alone can best provide for us every thing we need. On this account, David now says, that God knoweth the days of the righteous; that is to say, he is not ignorant of the dangers to which they are exposed, and the help which they need. This doctrine we ought to improve as a source of consolation under every vicissitude which may seem to threaten us with destruction. We may be harassed in various ways, and distracted by many dangers, which every moment threaten us with death, but this consideration ought to prove to us a sufficient ground of comfort, that not only are our days numbered by God, but that he also knows all the vicissitudes of our lot on earth. Since God then so carefully watches over us for the maintenance of our welfare, we ought to enjoy, in this our pilgrimage on earth, as much peace and satisfaction as if we were put in full possession of our paternal inheritance and home. Because we are regarded by God, David from this concludes, that our inheritance is everlasting. Moreover, in declaring that those who are upright are thus carefully protected by God, he exhorts us to the sincere pursuit of truth and uprightness; and if we desire to be placed in safety under the protection of God, let us cultivate meekness, and reject with detestation this hellish proverb, “We must howl among wolves.”
19 They shall not be ashamed in the season of adversity This verse also shows us, that the faithful have no right to expect such exemption as the flesh would desire from affliction and trial, but they are assured of deliverance in the end; which, though it be indeed obtained, yet it is of such a nature as can be realised only by faith. We must regard these two things as inseparably connected, namely, that as the faithful are mingled among the wicked in this world, so hunger and adversity are common to both. The only difference betwixt them is, that God stretches forth his hand towards his own people in the time of their need, while he abandons the ungodly, and takes no care of them. If it should be objected, that the wicked often fare sumptuously in the time of famine, and gratify all their desires, whilst the faithful are oppressed with poverty and want, I answer, that the fullness of which mention is here made consists chiefly in this, that the faithful, though they live sparingly, and often labor hard to acquire the means of subsistence, are nevertheless fed by God as truly as if they had a greater abundance of this world’s goods than the ungodly, who greedily devour the good things of this life in all their variety and abundance, and yet are never satisfied. Besides, as I have elsewhere said, these temporal blessings are not always seen flowing in one uniform course. The hand of God is indeed always open, but we are straitened and limited in our desires, so that our own unbelief is no small hinderance to his liberality. Moreover, as our corrupt nature would soon break forth into excess, God deals with us more sparingly; and lest he might corrupt us by too great indulgence, he trains us to frugality by bestowing with a sparing hand what he was ready otherwise to lavish upon us in full abundance. And, indeed, whoever shall consider how much addicted we are to sensuality and pleasure, will not be surprised that God should exercise his own people with poverty and want. But although God may not bestow upon us what is necessary for our gratification, yet, unless our own ingratitude prevent us, we shall experience, even in famine and want, that be nourishes us graciously and liberally.
20. For the wicked shalt perish, and the enemies of Jehovah shall be consumed as the preciousness 35 of lambs; they shalt be consumed into smoke. 36 21. The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again; but the righteous is merciful, and giveth. 22. For those who are blessed by him shall inherit the earth; and those who are cursed of him shall be cut off.
20 For the wicked shall perish. The causal particle כי, ki, which is here translated for, might also be rendered as if used adversatively by but or although, unless, perhaps, some would prefer to expound the sentence as of much higher import. But the preferable interpretation is, that there is here a contrast between the subjects spoken of, namely, that the righteous are satisfied in the time of famine, whereas the ungodly shall perish in the midst of their affluence; for, while they trust in their abundance, God brings them to nought by the use of means that are secret and hidden. In calling them the enemies of Jehovah, he teaches us, that they are justly overwhelmed by his vengeance, which they bring upon themselves by their own wickedness. When he says, that they shall be consumed as the excellency of lambs, this is understood by some to refer to the fat of them. But as יכר, yakar, signifies excellency, as I have said elsewhere, I have no doubt that this expression denotes the very best of lambs, and such as are of extraordinary fatness: and this is very suitable to the contrast here stated. We learn from this what another prophet likewise teaches, that the ungodly are fattened for the day of slaughter; so that the more sumptuously they shall have lived, the more suddenly shall their destruction come upon them. To be consumed into smoke is of the same import as to vanish away quickly; as if it had been said, There is no stability or substance in them. Those who understand the term יקר, yakar, to mean fat, explain this latter clause in this sense: that the wicked are consumed into smoke as fat melts or wastes away. 37 But the reader will see that the first interpretation is better.
21 The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again Those are mistaken who suppose that the wicked are here blamed for their treachery in carrying off the goods of others by fraud and deception; and that, on the other hand, the children of God are commended for their kindness in being always ready to relieve the wants of their poorer brethren. The prophet rather extols, on the one hand, the blessing of God towards the godly; and declares, on the other, that the ungodly never have enough. The meaning therefore is, that God deals bountifully with his own people, that they may be able to aid others; but that the ungodly are always in want, so that their poverty leads them to have recourse to fraud and rapine. And were we not blinded by insensibility and indifference, we could not fail to perceive the many proofs of this which are daily presented to our view. However great the abundance of the ungodly, yet their covetousness is so insatiable, that, like robbers, they plunder right and left, and yet are never able to pay; 38 while God bestows upon his own people a sufficiency not only for the supply of their own ordinary wants, but also to enable them to aid others. I do not indeed deny, that the wicked are reproved for wasteful extravagance, by which they defraud their creditors of what is their due, and also that the righteous are praised for applying to a proper use the bounty of God; but the design of the prophet is to show the high value of the divine blessing. This is confirmed by the following verse, in which he illustrates the difference resulting from the blessing and the curse of God. It then it is asked, whence the children of God are able to relieve the wants of the needy, and to exercise liberality towards them? and why it is that the ungodly are continually contracting debts from which they are never able to extricate themselves? David answers, that the former are blessed of the Lord, and that the latter are brought to utter ruin by his curse. Some expound the word מברכיו, meborakayv, actively, as if it were, Those who bless the righteous shall possess, etc.; 39 but this is constrained and absurd. The meaning is simply this, that whatever we need for the preservation and maintenance of life, and for the exercise of humanity towards others, comes to us neither from the heavens nor from the earth, but only from the favor and blessing of God; and that if he once withdraw his grace, the abundance of the whole world would not satisfy us.
23. The footsteps of a man are directed by Jehovah, and he will delight [or, take pleasure] in his way. 24. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for Jehovah upholdeth him with his hand. 25. I have been young, I am also become old; and yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. 26. He is daily merciful, and lendeth, and his seed is for blessing.
23 The footsteps of a man are directed by Jehovah Some join together these two things, first, that the footsteps of the godly are ordered by the grace of God, since men do not in their own strength follow what is just and right, but only in so far as the Spirit of God directs them; and hence the second follows, namely, that God favors and approves what is his own. But David simply continues his commendation of the divine blessing towards the faithful, of whom this is especially worthy of being remembered, that whatever they undertake always has a favorable and happy result. At the same time, the reason why God crowns with prosperity and success all our efforts throughout the course of our life is to be observed, namely, because we attempt nothing which is not pleasing to him. For I consider the copula and, in the second clause of the verse, to be used instead of the causal particle because, and resolve the whole verse in this way: Because the way of the godly is acceptable to God, he directs their footsteps to a happy issue; so that the meaning is, As God sees that the faithful act conscientiously, and do not turn aside from the way which he has appointed, he blesses their efforts. And, certainly, since the prophet speaks generally — and yet it is certain that the faithful only are here spoken of — the second clause must necessarily be considered as spoken by way of exposition. Accordingly, the term way denotes their manner and course of living; as if he had said, that the godly have no other object in view but to frame their lives agreeably to the will of God, and to obey what he commands. The term footsteps I consider as referring to external success.
24 Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down This verse has generally been interpreted proverbially, and as meaning, that though the righteous may fall into sin, his fall is not deadly; but this is not at all in accordance with the design of the prophet, who is discoursing of the happiness of the godly. The simple meaning is, that when God visits his servants with severe afflictions, he at the same time mitigates them that they may not faint under them; 40 as Paul declares,
“We are persecuted, but not forsaken;
cast down, but not destroyed.”— (2Co 4:9)
Some say that the righteous are not utterly cast down, because they lose not their courage, but rather bear with invincible fortitude whatever burden is laid upon them. I readily admit that the reason why they are not overwhelmed is, that they are not so tender and delicate as to sink under the burden. I, however, understand the words in a more extensive sense, and explain them thus: That the miseries of the godly are so tempered with God’s fatherly mercy, that they fail not under their burden, and even when they fall, sink not into destruction. From these words we learn that the godly, although they serve God sincerely, and study to lead a blameless life, are not suffered to continue unmoved, and always in the same condition, but are often afflicted and cast down by various trials; and that the only difference between them and the unbelieving is, that their falls are not deadly. We know that if God smite the reprobate, though it be but very slightly, it becomes the cause of their final destruction. Solomon speaks still more expressly when he says,
“For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again,”
and by these words he teaches us, that the godly are not only subjected to frequent afflictions in this life, but that they are visited with daily trials, and yet are never forsaken of the Lord. We must also shortly observe, that even the slightest fall would be enough to destroy us utterly, did not God uphold us by his hand.
25 I have been young, I am also become old. The meaning of these words is not in the least doubtful, namely, that David, even when he was become an old man, had not seen any of the righteous, or any of their children, begging their bread. But here there arises a question of some difficulty with respect to the fact stated; for it is certain that many righteous men have been reduced to beggary. And what David here declares as the result of his own experience pertains to all ages. Besides, he refers in this verse to the writings of Moses, for in De 15:4, begging is reckoned among the curses of God; and the law, in that place, expressly exempts from it those who fear and serve God. How then does the consistency of this appear, that none of the righteous ever begged his bread, since Christ placed Lazarus among the most abject of them? (Lu 16:20.) I answer, that we must bear in mind what I have before said upon this subject, that with respect to the temporal blessings which God confers upon his people, no certain or uniform rule can be established. There are various reasons why God does not manifest his favor equally to all the godly in this world. He chastises some, while he spares others: he heals the secret maladies of some, and passes by others, because they have no need of a like remedy: he exercises the patience of some, according as he has given them the spirit of fortitude; and, finally, he sets forth others by way of example. But in general, he humbles all of them by the tokens of his anger, that by secret warnings they may be brought to repentance. Besides, he leads them, by a variety of afflictions, to fix their thoughts in meditation upon the heavenly life; and yet it is not a vain or imaginary thing, that, as is set forth in the Law, God vouchsafes earthly blessings to his servants as proofs of his favor toward them. I confess, I say, that it is not in vain, or for nought, that an abundance of earthly blessings, sufficient for the supply of all their wants, is promised to the godly. This, however, is always to be understood with this limitation, that God will bestow these blessings only in so far as he shall consider it expedient: and, accordingly, it may happen that the blessing of God may be manifested in the life of men in general, and yet some of the godly be pinched with poverty, because it is for their good. But if it happen that any of the faithful are brought to beggary, they should lift up their minds on high, to that blessed state in which God will largely recompense them for all that is now wanting in the blessings of this transitory life. We must also bear this in mind, that if God sometimes involve the faithful in the same punishments by which he takes vengeance upon the ungodly — seeing them, for example, affected with the same diseases, — in doing so there is no inconsistency; for although they do not come the length of contemning God, nor are devoted to wickedness, nor even act according to their own inclination, nor yield themselves wholly to the influence of sin like the wicked, yet are they not free of all blame; and, therefore, it need not surprise us though they are sometimes subjected to temporal punishments. We are, however, certain of this, that God makes such provision for his own people, that, being contented with their lot, they are never in want; because, by living sparingly, they always have enough, as Paul says, Philippians 6:12,
“I am instructed both to abound and to suffer need.”
26 He is daily merciful The Psalmist here repeats what he had already said, that the grace of God is a fountain of all blessings which can never be exhausted; and, therefore, while it is displayed towards the faithful, they not only have enough for the supply of their own wants, but are able also liberally to assist others. What he adds concerning their seed is variously expounded. That he is speaking of the children of the godly, there can be no doubt; and this is evident from the preceding verse. But when he says that they shall be for blessing, 41 some understand it as if he had said, They shall be the ministers of God’s liberality: so that, according to them, the sense would be, that they shall follow the good example of their fathers in helping the poor, and in exercising liberality towards all men. But I fear that this exposition is too refined. Nor do I admit the interpretation which has been given by others, that the meaning is, that the grace of God shall be so signally manifested towards the children of the godly, that their names shall be employed in a form of prayer, when prosperity and success are prayed for. This mode of expression, I allow, is to be so understood in various places; but here, in my opinion, David designs nothing more than to extol the continuation of God’s favor from the fathers to their children: as if he had said, God’s blessing does not terminate with the death of the righteous man, but it extends even to his children. 42 And there is indeed no inheritance more certain to which our children may succeed us, than when God, receiving them in like manner into his fatherly favor, makes them partakers of his blessing.
27. Depart from evil, and do good, and dwell for ever. 28. For Jehovah loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his meek ones: they shall be preserved for ever: and the seed of the wicked shall be cut off. 29. The righteous shall inherit the earth, and shall dwell for ever upon it.
27 Depart from evil, and do good. In this verse David argues, that, in order to realize the blessedness of which he has spoken, we must abstain from all evil, perform the duties of humanity, and exert ourselves in doing good to our neighbors. This doctrine is at variance with the dictates of corrupt human nature; but it is, notwithstanding, certain that many of the troubles and distresses in which the whole human race are involved, proceed from no other cause than this, that every man respectively, in his own sphere, being given to injustice, fraud, extortion, and evil-dealing, contemptuously rejects the blessing of God. Thus, it is in consequence of the barriers which men throw in their own way, that they do not attain happiness in this world, and that every man in his own place does not possess the peace and quietness which belong to him. It is then with the highest propriety that David passes from the doctrine of the preceding context to this exhortation: for if the meek possess the earth, then every one, as he regards his own happiness and peace, ought also to endeavor to walk uprightly, and to apply himself to works of beneficence. It should also be observed, that he connects these two things, first, that the faithful should strictly do good; and, secondly, that they should restrain themselves from doing evil: and this he does not without good reason: for as we have seen in the thirty-fourth psalm, it often happens that the same person who not only acts kindly towards certain persons, but even with a bountiful hand deals out largely of his own, is yet all the while plundering others, and amassing by extortion the resources by means of which he displays his liberality. Whoever, therefore, is desirous to have his good offices approved by God, let him endeavor to relieve his brethren who have need of his help, but let him not injure one in order to help another, or afflict and grieve one in order to make another glad. Now David, under these two expressions, has briefly comprised the duties of the second table of the law: first, that the godly should keep their hands free from all mischief, and give no occasion of complaint to any man; and, secondly, that they should not live to themselves, and to the promotion merely of their own private interests, but should endeavor to promote the common good of all according to their opportunities, and as far as they are able. But we have already said, that the blessing which is promised to the righteous, that “they shall inherit the earth,” is not always realised in an equal degree as to all the people of God; and the reason we assigned for this is, that God cannot find among men an example of such great uprightness, but that even the most perfect procure to themselves much misery by their own fault: and therefore it need not surprise us though God withdraw, at least in some measure, his blessing even from his own. We know too to what excess the lusts of the flesh run riot, unless the Lord lay a restraint upon them. Besides, there is no one who is ready cheerfully to engage in meditation upon the divine life, who is not urged and encouraged to it by various motives. Hence it is that the possession of the earth, which David here assigns to the children of God, does not (as the lawyers would define the term) always consist in having the feet planted within it, and in being securely established in it; for there are many sources of disquietude and affliction here to trouble them. And yet it does not follow that it is a mere fiction or imaginary thing which he promises. For although daily experience shows us that the children of God do not as yet inherit the earth, yet, according to the measure of our faith, we feel how efficacious the blessing of God is, which, like a spring that cannot be drained, flows continually. They are indeed more than blind who do not perceive that the righteous have at present this reward, that God defends and upholds them by his power.
28 For Jehovah loveth judgement. This, it ought to be observed, is a confirmation of the doctrine contained in the preceding sentence; and it is here made to rest upon a higher principle, namely, that God takes pleasure in righteousness and truth. The argument indeed appears to be incomplete; but as David takes for granted — what ought to be deeply fixed in the hearts of all the faithful — that the world is directed by the providence of God, his conclusion is admirable. In the first place, then, it must be admitted that the condition of the human race is not under the direction of chance, but of the providence of God, and that the world is conducted and governed by his counsel: so that he regulates according to his pleasure the issue of all things, and controls them by his power; and, secondly, to this it must be added what David here states, that righteousness and truth are pleasing to God. Hence it follows, that all who lead an upright and blameless life among men shall be happy, because, enjoying the favor of God, every thing at length must in regard to them have a happy and successful result. But let us bear in mind, that the promise which is spoken of in this verse is to be understood in this sense, that while God has undertaken the preservation of the godly, it is not to cherish them continually in retirement and ease, but after he has for a time exercised them under the cross, at length to come to their help: for the language here employed, Jehovah forsaketh not his meek ones, is tacitly very emphatic. Those, therefore, who separate the exercise of patience from the favor which God bestows upon the godly in this life, misinterpret this psalm. On the contrary, lest any one should hastily and rashly pronounce judgment, the prophet entreats the faithful to suspend their judgment, until God manifest his displeasure after the death of the wicked, in inflicting punishment upon their posterity: The seed of the wicked shall be cut off This is of the same import as if he had again asserted, that although the judgements of God are not immediately executed upon the wicked and ungodly, yet they are not on that account anything the better of it, since the punishment justly due to them will extend to their children. If then the curse of God is not forthwith inflicted upon them, it need not surprise us if he delay for a time to manifest the favor which he bears towards the faithful.
29 The righteous shall inherit the earth The repetition of the same doctrine here is not superfluous, since it is so very difficult to impress it deeply upon our minds. For while all men seek after happiness, scarcely one in a hundred looks for it from God, but rather all, on the contrary, in making provision for themselves, provoke the vengeance of God, as it were deliberately, and strive to excel each other in doing so, so that some of them stain themselves with fraud and perjury, some indulge in robbery and extortion, some practice all sorts of cruelty, and others commit violence and outrage even with the sword and poison. Moreover, I have just now, and on several other occasions, stated the sense in which this everlasting habitation upon the earth, which is here promised to the righteous, is to be understood, namely, that although they are surrounded by the troubles and changes which occur in this world, yet God preserves them under his wings; and although there is nothing lasting or stable under heaven, yet he keeps them in safety as if they were sheltered in a secure haven. And, finally, they enjoy in addition to this that inward peace of mind which is better than a hundred lives, and which is therefore justly regarded as a privilege surpassing in value and importance all others.
30. The mouth of the righteous will speak wisdom, and his tongue will utter judgment. 31. The law of his God is in his heart: his steps shall not slide. 32. The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him. 33. Jehovah will not leave him in his hand, nor condemn him when he is judged.
30 The mouth of the righteous will speak wisdom As it is customary with hypocrites confidently to draw to their own advantage whatever the Spirit of God declares concerning the just and upright, David here gives a definition of the righteousness which God requires on the part of his children, and divides it into three principal parts — that their speech should be in sincerity and truth; that the law of God should reign in their heart; and that they should order their conversation aright. Some give a different exposition of the first part from what we have given: they say that the righteous serve as teachers and guides, by instructing others to live well, and leading them in the way; and, therefore, to speak wisdom, and to utter judgment, is, in their view, of the same import as to instruct others in holy doctrine, and to train them to the fear of God. I do not altogether disapprove of this exposition, but I fear it is too restricted. Wisdom and uprightness are here opposed as much to the profane and filthy language by which the wicked endeavor to blot out the name of God, as to cunning and fraud, and every species of stratagem and deceit; and also to the threats and terrors by which they endeavor to frighten the simple. 43 The meaning therefore is, first, that the righteous speak honourably and reverently of the righteousness of God, that they may cherish in themselves and others, to a large extent, the knowledge and the fear of God; 44 secondly, that both in their own affairs and those of others, they approve, without disguise or deceit, of what is just and reasonable, and are not given to justify what is wrong under the color and varnish of sophistry; and, finally, that they never depart from the truth.
To this there is added integrity of heart: The law of the Lord is in his heart. This, though it should precede in point of order, is not improperly put in the second place here. For the Scriptures are not particular in observing an exact arrangement in the enumeration of virtues and vices. Besides, the source whence this integrity of heart proceeds is, that the Law of God has its seat in the heart; and it is it alone which prescribes the best rule of life, restrains all the depraved affections and lusts, and imbues the minds of men with the love of righteousness. No man will constantly and steadily devote himself to a life of uprightness, exert himself in behalf of others in preference to his own personal interests, renounce covetousness, subdue pride, and maintain a constant warfare with his own nature, unless he is endued with the fear of God. There next follows the third division, which relates to the external conduct: His steps shall not slide Some, indeed, think that this is a promise; but I have no doubt, that in this clause David still continues the definition of righteousness. The meaning therefore is, that although the children of God are tempted in a variety of ways to commit sin, and many things occur urging them to it, — and although men, for the most part, too, endeavor, as far as in them lies, by their maliciousness to turn them aside from the fear of God, — yet, because the Law of God rules and reigns in their hearts, they do not slide, but stand to their purpose with firm and determined resolution, or at least adhere to the right course.
32. and 33. The wicked watcheth the righteous, etc. David here illustrates more plainly the nature of the possession of the earth, of which he had spoken, namely, that God preserves his own people, though they are beset with enemies round about. And hence we are again taught, that the faithful are not promised in the preceding context a quiet state of life, and one free from all trouble and distress. If so, these two statements would be contradictory: first, that the faithful possessing an inheritance, enjoy repose and pleasure; and, secondly, that yet they are daily delivered as sheep out of the mouth of wolves. These two verses, however, contain this special ground of consolation, that the faithful, though surrounded by such a variety of dangers, shall notwithstanding escape, and be preserved in safety by the help of God. Accordingly, David here teaches them, that when they shall see their enemies lying in wait for them, and seeking by every means in their power to annoy them, they, on the contrary, ought to consider how deeply interested God is in the welfare of his own people, and how carefully he watches over them to preserve them in safety. David indeed confesses that the stratagems to which the wicked have recourse in seeking not only to deprive good men of their property, but even to take away their lives, are terrible in themselves, because they cruelly plot their destruction; but still he teaches us at the same time, that we ought to continue to preserve firm and undaunted courage, because God has promised that he will be our guardian and defender: Jehovah will not leave him in his hand This circumstance, however, ought to be considered, that God does not always grant us deliverance at the first, but often delays it till we seem to be even at the point of death. In the last clause of the verse, we are also admonished, that however carefully good men may guard against giving offense to any, and endeavor to secure the good-will of all, and shun debate and strife, yet they shall not be exempted from false accusations: Jehovah will not condemn them when they are judged David does not say that they shall receive the applause of the world, and that their virtues shall be celebrated in such praises as they deserve; but he exhorts them, when they shall be haled to judgment, and as it were overwhelmed with slander, so that they already resemble those who are condemned, to rest contented with the protection of God, who will at length manifest their innocence, and maintain it against the unrighteous judgments of men. If any one object, that, on the contrary, many of the children of God, after having been condemned, have suffered a cruel and bitter death, I answer, that their avenger nevertheless is in heaven. Christ was put to death in the most cruel form, and in circumstances of the deepest ignominy, but notwithstanding, as the prophet Isaiah says, Isa 53:8, “he was taken from that distress and condemnation;” and in the same manner God is still acting daily towards those who are his members. If it may still be objected, that David is here discoursing not of the life to come, but of the state of the godly in the present life, I must again repeat in answer to this, the explanation which I have given before, namely, that earthly blessings are at God’s disposal, and are regulated entirely according to his will; and hence it is that he never bestows them in an equal measure upon all, but according to his wisdom, and as he sees meet, sometimes withdrawing them either in whole or in part, and at other times displaying them to the view of all. Accordingly, it may happen, that the holy martyrs, after they have been condemned, may also be put to death, as if God had forsaken them; but this is only because it is better for themselves, and because they desire nothing more than to glorify God by their death. Yet he who permits the ungodly to exercise their cruelty, ceases not to be the assertor of the righteousness of his servants: for he openly shows before his angels, and before his whole Church, that he approves it, and declares that he will make inquisition for it; nay, more, raising them from the darkness in which they have been hid, he makes their ashes yield a sweet and pleasant odour. Finally, after the Lord has suffered them to be overwhelmed by reproach and violence, he will pronounce the judgment by which he will vindicate their righteous cause from wicked calumnies and false accusations.
34. Wait upon Jehovah, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee, that thou mayest inherit the earth: when the wicked are cut off thou shalt see it. 35. I have seen the wicked terrible, 45 and spreading himself like a green bay tree: 46 36. And he passed away, 47 and, lo! he was not: and I sought for his place, and he was not found.
34 Wait upon Jehovah, and keep his way David again returns to the style of exhortation, in order that the faithful, trusting to God’s promises and sustained by them, may not suffer themselves to be drawn hither and thither by any temptations through devious and sinful ways, but may persevere steadfastly in the service of God. In the first place, he exhorts them to hope and patience, as if he wished them, amidst the tumults and troubles of life, to trust in God, and hold their peace till he again show them his countenance, which for a time he had hid from them. Hence arises, in the second place, another exhortation, that they should not turn aside from the way of the Lord; for wherever hope and patience prevail, they will so restrain the minds of men that they will not break out into any thing unlawful and wicked. It will doubtless be found, that the reason why every man endeavors to promote his own advantage by wicked practices is, that no one depends upon God, or else that he thinks, if fortune do not quickly smile upon him, that it is vain for him to persevere in the practice of equity and uprightness. Moreover, we may learn from this place, that if many, even of the good and the upright, are subjected to poverty, and lead a life of protracted affliction and trial, they suffer their punishment justly, because, so far from being firmly persuaded that it belongs to God as his proper office not only to lift up his servants from the dunghill, but also to bring them forth even from their graves, scarcely one in a hundred of them patiently waits upon God, and continues perseveringly in the right course. Nor is it without good reason that David makes use of the word exalt, that we may know that God often stretches forth his hand to the faithful when they appear to be overwhelmed by the weight of their calamities. He then adds, that the wicked shall perish before the eyes of the godly. If their end were not very different from that of the righteous, the state in which the reprobate now rejoice for a time would easily allure even the best of men to evil. And, indeed, God would make us daily to behold such sights if we had eyes to behold his judgments. And yet, although the whole world were blinded, God does not cease to render a just reward to the wickedness of men; but by punishing them in a more private manner, he withdraws from us that fruit of which our own dulness deprives us.
35. and 36 I have seen the wicked terrible, etc. David here confirms from his own experience what I have just said, namely, that although the wicked are intoxicated with their prosperity, and held in admiration by all on account of it, yet their happiness is transitory and evanescent, and, therefore, nothing else than a mere illusion. In the 35th verse he tells us, that it is no strange or unwonted thing for the ungodly, puffed up with their prosperity, to spread themselves far and wide, and to give occasion of terror to the innocent. Then he adds, that their greatness, which had been regarded with so much wonder, disappears in a moment. As to the meaning of the words, עריף, arits, which we have rendered terrible, might also be translated strong, because the word from which it is derived signifies sometimes to terrify, and sometimes to strengthen. The word מתערה, mithareh, is taken by some for green, but it rather means discovering or spreading himself out, as high and broad trees spread out their branches. David, I have no doubt, here rebukes the insolence of those who vaunt themselves immoderately. To pass away, in the 36th verse, is used for to vanish away; and thus he admonishes us to sit still for a time, in order that it may appear, after it has passed away, that all that the world admires in the prosperity of the wicked has been only a mist.
37. Observe the perfect man, and consider the just for the end of that man is peace. 38. But the transgressors shall be destroyed together: the end of the wicked shall be cut off. 39. The salvation of the righteous is from Jehovah: he is their strength in the time of trouble. 40. Jehovah shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked: he shall preserve them, because they trust in him.
37 Observe the perfect man David exhorts the faithful diligently to consider every instance they may meet with of the grace of God, as well as of his judgment; but he teaches, at the same time, that it is in vain for any to sit in judgment upon the first aspect of things. When men do not wait patiently and quietly the time which God has appointed in his good pleasure, it often happens that faith is extinguished, and trust in the promises of God, at the same time, perishes with it. This is the reason why David exhorts us to observe and consider, for when our minds are preoccupied by the temptation which is once presented to our view, hasty judgment is then the cause of our being deceived. But if a man extend his view, as if it were from a watch-tower, to a great distance, he will find that it has been said with truth, that the end of the reprobate and the end of the righteous respectively are at length very different. This clause, with respect to the end of these two classes of men, seems to be added by way of caution, that we may learn to suspend our judgment, if God should not immediately accomplish what he has spoken. If we should become impatient in our desires, let us moderate our minds by the reflection, that the end is not yet come, and that it behoves us to give God time to restore to order the confused state of things. Some explain the word אחרית, acharith, which we have rendered the end of the wicked, of their posterity. This, however, is incorrect. David refers only to the difference which subsists between them and the righteous in the end; for God, after he has severely tried his servants, and exercised their patience, in the end converts their adversity into a blessing, while he turns the mirth of the ungodly into mourning.
39 The salvation of the righteous is from Jehovah The sum of the whole is, that whatever may happen, the righteous shall be saved, because they are in the hand of God, and can never be forgotten by him. This ought to be particularly noticed, that those who are greatly afflicted may be sustained by the assurance that the salvation which they expect from God is infallibly certain, because God is eternal, and governs the world by his power; as Christ said,
“My Father, who gave them me, is greater than all,”
David still inculcates this principle, that as righteousness is approved of God, it can never happen that he should forsake his faithful servants, and deprive them of his help. He, therefore, exhorts true believers to depend upon God, not only when things prosper according to their desires, but even when they are sorely afflicted. By these words he teaches that it is enough, if God only impart strength to his servants, so that, when severely afflicted and oppressed with anguish, they may not faint under it, or that, when groaning under the weight of severe afflictions, they may not sink under the burden. To the same purpose also is the expression which David uses twice in the last verse, that God will deliver By this he admonishes the children of God to learn patiently to endure afflictions, and that, if God should prolong them, they should often recall this to their remembrance, that after he has tried their patience, he will in the end deliver them.
“C’est, jouy des biens d’icelle en repos ferme et asseure.” — Fr. marg. “That is, enjoy the good things of it in quietness and security.”
“C’est, ton bon droict.” — Fr. marg. “That is, thy just cause, or thy rectitude.
That is, do not enter into fellowship with.
The fitness of this figure to express the transient and short-lived character of the prosperity of the wicked, will appear in a still more striking light when we take into consideration the great heat of the climate of Palestine.
Some read, “Thou shalt dwell in the land.” The Hebrew verb is in the imperative mood; but the imperative in Hebrew is sometimes used for the future of the indicative. — Glass. tom. 1, can. 40, p. 285.
”C’est dire, qui te vient loyaument.” — Fr.
Modern critics have varied as much in their interpretations of this clause of the verse as those who preceded Calvin, of whom he complains. For example, Ainsworth reads, “Thou shalt be fed by faith;” Archbishop Secker,” Thou shalt be fed in plenty;” Parkhurst, “Thou shalt be fed in security;” Dathe, “Tunc terram inhabitabis et secure vivas,” assigning the reason for this translation to be, that “pascere securitatem, sive si malis, in securitate, nihil aliud est quam secure vivere;” and Gesenius reads, “Follow after truth,” or, “seek to be faithful,” deriving the verb from a root which signifies to take delight in, or to follow after.
“D’autant que Dieu est la part de nostre heritage, que nostre lot est escheu en lieux plaisan,.” — Fr.
Calvin here gives the exact sense of the Hebrew verb גלל, galal. It literally signifies to roll, or to devolve; and in this passage it evidently means, Roll or devolve all thy concerns upon God; “cast thy burden upon him,” as it is in Ps 55:22; “the metaphor being taken,” says Cresswell, “from a burden put by one who is unequal to it upon a stronger man.” But Dr Adam Clarke thinks that the idea may be taken from the camel who lies down till his load be rolled upon him.
“Ou, qui vient a bont de ses entreprises.” — Fr. marg. “Or, who accomplishes his devices.”
“C’est, y auront leurs plaisirs avec grande prosperite.” — Fr. marg. “That is, shall have their enjoyment in it with great prosperity.”
The Hebrew verb rendered silent is דום, dom, from which the English word dumb appears to be derived. The silence here enjoined is opposed to murmuring or complaining. The word is rendered by the Septuagint, ὑποταγνθι, be subject; which is not an exact translation of the original term: but it well expresses the meaning; for this silence implies the entire subjection of ourselves to the will of God.
“De se venger, et de rendre mal pour mal.” — Fr. “To take revenge, and to render evil for evil.”
Dominus. Heb. אתי, Adonai
“Comme s’ils avoyent puissance de faire de nous a leur plaisir.” — Fr.
“Day is often used," says Ainsworth, “for the time of punishment; as, ‘the posterity shall be astonied at his day,’ Job 18:20; ‘Woe unto them, for their day is come!’ Jer 50:27. So ‘the day of Midian,’ Isa 9:4; ‘the day of Jezreel,’ Ho 1:11; ‘the day of Jerusalem,’ Ps 137:7.”
“De brebis destinees au sacrifice.” — Fr.
“Ou, aux grans qui sont meschans.” — Fr. marg. “Or, to the great who are wicked.”
Ainsworth renders this word, “plenteous mammon,” which, he remarks, “signifieth multitude, plenty, or store of riches, or any other thing.” The Septuagint renders it riches. The English word mammon is derived from this Hebrew word.
This is the view taken by Fry, who renders the words,
“Better are the few of the Just one,
Than the great multitude of the wicked.”
By the Just One, he understands Christ.
“‘Depositeth the days of the upright,” — lays them up in safety for them: for such is the original idea of ירע.” — Fry
“Ou, l’excellence, c’est, les agneaux plus beaux et plus gras.” — Fr. marg. “Or, the excellency, that is, the finest and fattest lambs.”
“C’est, s’esvanouiront en brief.” — Fr. marg. “That is, shall speedily vanish away.”
It is generally supposed that there is here an allusion to the sacrificial services of the former dispensation. Lambs were then offered in large numbers as burnt-offerings; and if the allusion is to these sacrifices, as is highly probable, the doctrine taught is, that as the fat of them melted away, and was wholly and rapidly consumed by the fire of the altar of burnt-offering, so the wicked shall melt away and be quickly consumed in the fire of Jehovah’s wrath. The Chaldee paraphrases the last clause thus: — “They shall be consumed in the smoke of Gehenna,” or of hell.
“Comme escumeurs de mer sans jamais avoir de quoy satisfaire.” — Fr. “Like pirates, without ever having any thing to pay.”
“Comme s’il y avoit, Ceux qui beniront les justes, possederont,” etc. — Fr.
“Neither the text,” says Dr Adam Clarke, “nor any of the versions, intimate that a falling into sin is meant; but a falling into trouble, difficulty,” etc.
This is also the reading of the Septuagint, Τὸ σπέζμα αὐτου εἰς εὐλογίαν ἕσται
Ainsworth reads, “And his seed are in the blessing,” and understands the words as meaning, that the children of the just man “are in the blessing, or are appointed to the blessing, as the heirs thereof,” Ge 28:3; 1Pe 3:9; and that they have still abundance, notwithstanding the liberality of their parents; for “the blessing of the Lord maketh rich,” Pr 10:22.
“Par lesquelles ils taschent d’espouvanter les simples.” — Fr.
“En toutes les parties de la cognoissance et crainte de Dieu.” — Fr.
Striking terror in all around.
The proper signification of the word אזרח, azrach, has been controverted among interpreters, and it has been variously rendered. Most of the Rabbins, and many modern commentators, as Mudge, Waterland, Gesenius, and others, are of opinion, that the preferable reading is, “like an indigenous or native tree;” that is, a tree which flourishes in its native soil, where it grows most vigorously, and acquires its largest and most luxuriant growth. The Septuagint translates it, ὼς τὰς χέδρους του Λιβάνου, “as the cedars of Lebanon;” being self-growing, spreading, and lofty trees. Some suppose that the translators of this version must have had a different reading in their Hebrew Bibles from what is in our present copies; and others that, as is common with them, they paraphrase the original words, the more clearly to express their meaning. The translation of the Septuagint is followed by the Vulgate, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions, by Houbigant, Boothroyd, Geddes, and other good authorities. Ainsworth reads, “as a green self-growing laurel.” Bythner says he is at a loss for the reason of translating the word laurel. “For the reading of bay tree,” says the illustrated Commentary upon the Bible, “we are not aware of any authority, except the very feeble one which is offered by some of the older of the modern versions in this country and on the Continent.”
The Suptuagint, Vulgate, Syriac, and Arabic versions, Jerome, Houbigant, Horsley, and Walford, read the verb in the first person, “But I passed by.” The Chaldee adheres to the Hebrew, “And he passed, or failed, from the age, or world, and, lo! he was not.”