Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 10: Psalms, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
David, or whoever may have been the author of this psalm, contending as it were against the judgment of carnal sense and reason, begins by extolling the righteousness and goodness of God. He next confesses that when he saw the wicked abounding in wealth, and living in the indulgence of every kind of pleasure, yea, even scornfully mocking God, and cruelly harassing the righteous, and that when he saw, on the other hand, how in proportion to the care with which any studied to practice uprightness, was the degree in which they were weighed down by troubles and calamities, and that in general all the children of God were pining away, and oppressed with cares and sorrows, while God, as if sitting in heaven idle and unconcerned, did not interfere to remedy such a disordered state of matters; it gave him so severe a shock, as almost to dispose him to cast off all concern about religion and all fear of God. In the third place, he reproves his own folly in proceeding rashly and hastily to pronounce judgment, merely from a view of the present state of things, and shows the necessity of exercising patience, that our faith may not fail under these troubles and disquietudes. At last he concludes that, provided we leave the providence of God to take its own course, in the way which he has determined in his secret purpose, 148 in the end, matters will assume a very different aspect, and it will be seen, that, on the one hand, the righteous are not defrauded of their reward, and that, on the other, the wicked do not escape the hand of the judge.
A Psalm of Asaph.
1. Yet God is good to Israel, to those who are right of heart. 2. As for me, my feet were almost gone, my steps had well nigh slipped. 3. For I envied the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
As to the author of this psalm, I am not disposed to contend very strongly, although I think it probable that the name of Asaph was prefixed to it because the charge of singing it was committed to him, while the name of David, its author, was omitted, just as it is usual for us, when things are well known of themselves, not to be at the trouble of stating them. How much profit we may derive from meditation upon the doctrine contained in this psalm, it is easy to discover from the example of the prophet, who, although he had been exercised in no ordinary degree in true godliness, yet had great difficulty in keeping his footing, while reeling to and fro on the slippery ground on which he found himself placed. Nay, he acknowledges that, before he returned to such soundness of mind as enabled him to form a just judgment of the things which occasioned his trial, he had fallen into a state of almost brutish stupidity. As to ourselves, experience shows how slight impressions we have of the providence of God. We no doubt all agree in admitting that the world is governed by the hand of God; but were this truth deeply rooted in our hearts, our faith would be distinguished by far greater steadiness and perseverance in surmounting the temptations with which we are assailed in adversity. But when the smallest temptation which we meet with dislodges this doctrine from our minds, it is manifest that we have not yet been truly and in good earnest convinced of its truth.
Besides, Satan has numberless artifices by which he dazzles our eyes and bewilders the mind; and then the confusion of things which prevails in the world produces so thick a mist, as to render it difficult for us to see through it, and to come to the conclusion that God governs and extends his care to things here below. The ungodly for the most part triumph; and although they deliberately stir up God to anger and provoke his vengeance, yet from his sparing them, it seems as if they had done nothing amiss in deriding him, and that they will never be called to account for it. 149 On the other hand, the righteous, pinched with poverty, oppressed with many troubles, harassed by multiplied wrongs, and covered with shame and reproach, groan and sigh: and in proportion to the earnestness with which they exert themselves in endeavoring to do good to all men, is the liberty which the wicked have the effrontery to take in abusing their patience. When such is the state of matters, where shall we find the person who is not sometimes tempted and importuned by the unholy suggestion, that the affairs of the world roll on at random, and as we say, are governed by chance? 150 This unhallowed imagination has doubtless obtained complete possession of the minds of the unbelieving, who are not illuminated by the Spirit of God, and thereby led to elevate their thoughts to the contemplation of eternal life. Accordingly, we see the reason why Solomon declares, that since “all things come alike to all, and there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked,” the hearts of the sons of men are full of impiety and contempt of God, (Eccl. 9:2, 3;) — the reason is, because they do not consider that things apparently so disordered are under the direction and government of God.
Some of the heathen philosophers discoursed upon, and maintained the doctrine of a Divine Providence; but it was evident from experience that they had notwithstanding no real and thorough persuasion of its truth; for when things fell out contrary to their expectation, they openly disavowed what they had previously professed. 151 Of this we have a memorable example in Brutus. We can hardly conceive of a man surpassing him in courage, and all who intimately knew him bore testimony to his distinguished wisdom. Being of the sect of the Stoic philosophers, he spake many excellent things in commendation of the power and providence of God; and yet when at length vanquished by Antony, he cried out, that whatever he had believed concerning virtue had no foundation in truth, but was the mere invention of men, and that all the pains taken to live honestly and virtuously was only so much lost labor, since fortune rules over all the affairs of mankind. Thus this personage, who was distinguished for heroic courage, and an example of wonderful resolution, in renouncing virtue, and under the name of it cursing God, shamefully fell away. Hence it is manifest, how the sentiments of the ungodly fluctuate with the fluctuation of events. And how can it be expected that the heathen, who are not regenerated by the Spirit of God, should be able to resist such powerful and violent assaults, when even God’s own people have need of the special assistance of his grace to prevent the same temptation from prevailing in their hearts, and when they are sometimes shaken by it and ready to fall; even as David here confesses, that his steps had well nigh slipped? But let us now proceed to the consideration of the words of the psalm.
1. Yet God is good to Israel. The adverb אך, 152 ach, does not here imply a simple affirmation certainly, as it often does in other places, but is taken adversatively for yet, notwithstanding, or some similar word. David opens the psalm abruptly; and from this we learn, what is worthy of particular notice, that before he broke forth into this language, his mind had been agitated with many doubts and conflicting suggestions. As a brave and valiant champion, he had been exercised in very painful struggles and temptations; but, after long and arduous exertion, he at length succeeded in shaking off all perverse imaginations, and came to the conclusion that yet God is gracious to his servants, and the faithful guardian of their welfare. Thus these words contain a tacit contrast between the unhallowed imaginations suggested to him by Satan, and the testimony in favor of true religion with which he now strengthens himself, denouncing, as it were, the judgment of the flesh, in giving place to misgiving thoughts with respect to the providence of God. We see then how emphatic is this exclamation of the Psalmist. He does not ascend into the chair to dispute after the manner of the philosophers, and to deliver his discourse in a style of studied oratory; but, as if he had escaped from hell, he proclaims, with a loud voice, and with impassioned feeling, that he had obtained the victory. To teach us by his own example the difficulty and arduousness of the conflict, he opens, so to speak, his heart and bowels, and would have us to understand something more than is expressed by the words which he employs. The amount of his language is, that although God, to the eye of sense and reason, may seem to neglect his servants, yet he always embraces them with his favor. He celebrates the providence of God, especially as it is extended towards genuine saints; to show them, not only that they are governed by God in common with other creatures, but that he watches over their welfare with special care, even as the master of a family carefully provides for and attends to his own household. God, it is true, governs the whole world; but he is graciously pleased to take a more close and peculiar inspection of his Church, which he has undertaken to maintain and defend.
This is the reason why the prophet speaks expressly of Israel; and why immediately after he limits this name to those who are right of heart; which is a kind of correction of the first sentence; for many proudly lay claim to the name of Israel, as if they constituted the chief members of the Church, while they are but Ishmaelites and Edomites. David, therefore, with the view of blotting out from the catalogue of the godly all the degenerate children of Abraham, 153 acknowledges none to belong to Israel but such as purely and uprightly worship God; as if he had said, “When I declare that God is good to his Israel, I do not mean all those who, resting contented with a mere external profession, bear the name of Israelites, to which they have no just title; but I speak of the spiritual children of Abraham, who consecrate themselves to God with sincere affection of heart.” Some explain the first clause, God is good to Israel, as referring to his chosen people; and the second clause, to those who are right of heart, as referring to strangers, to whom God would be gracious, provided they walked in true uprightness. But this is a frigid and forced interpretation. It is better to adhere to that which I have stated. David, in commending the goodness of God towards the chosen people and the Church, was under the necessity of cutting off from their number many hypocrites who had apostatised from the service of God, and were, therefore, unworthy of enjoying his fatherly favor. To his words corresponds the language of Christ to Nathanael, (Joh 1:47,) “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” As the fear of God among the Jews was at that time well nigh extinguished, and there remained among them almost nothing else but the “circumcision made with hands,” that is to say, outward circumcision, Christ, to discriminate between the true children of Abraham and hypocrites, lays it down as a distinguishing characteristic of the former, that they are free from guile. And assuredly in the service of God, no qualification is more indispensable than uprightness of heart.
2. As for me, etc. Literally, it is, And I: which ought to be read with emphasis; for David means that those temptations, which cast an affront upon the honor of God, and overwhelm faith, not only assail the common class of men, or those who are endued only with some small measure of the fear of God, but that he himself, who ought to have profited above all others in the school of God, had experienced his own share of them. By thus setting himself forth as an example, he designed the more effectually to arouse and incite us to take great heed to ourselves. He did not, it is true, actually succumb under the temptation; but, in declaring that his feet were almost gone, and that his steps had well nigh slipped, he warns us that all are in danger of falling, unless they are upheld by the powerful hand of God.
3. For I envied the foolish 154 Here he declares the nature of the temptation with which he was assailed. It consisted in this, that when he saw the present prosperous state of the wicked, and from it judged them to be happy, he had envied their condition. We are certainly under a grievous and a dangerous temptation, when we not only, in our own minds, quarrel with God for not setting matters in due order, but also when we give ourselves loose reins, boldly to commit iniquity, because it seems to us that we may commit it, and yet escape with impunity. The sneering jest of Dionysius the younger, a tyrant of Sicily, when, after having robbed the temple of Syracuse, he had a prosperous voyage with the plunder, is well known. 155 “See you not,” says he to those who were with him, “how the gods favor the sacrilegious?” In the same way, the prosperity of the wicked is taken as an encouragement to commit sin; for we are ready to imagine, that, since God grants them so much of the good things of this life, they are the objects of his approbation and favor. We see how their prosperous condition wounded David to the heart, leading him almost to think that there was nothing better for him than to join himself to their company, and to follow their course of life. 156 By applying to the ungodly the appellation of foolish, he does not simply mean that the sins which they commit are committed through ignorance or inadvertence, but he sets their folly in opposition to the fear of God, which is the principal constituent of true wisdom. 157 The ungodly are, no doubt, crafty; but, being destitute of the fundamental principle of all right judgment, which consists in this, that we must regulate and frame our lives according to the will of God, they are foolish; and this is the effect of their own blindness.
4. For there are no bands to their death, and their strength is vigorous. 158 5. They are not in the trouble that is common to man; neither are they scourged [or stricken] with other men. 6. Therefore pride compasseth them as a chain; the raiment of violence hath covered them. 7. Their eye goeth out for fatness; they have passed beyond [or exceeded] the thoughts of their heart. 8. They become insolent, and wickedly talk of extortion: 159 they speak from on high. 9. They have set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth. 160
4 For there are no bands to their death. The Psalmist describes the comforts and advantages of the ungodly, which are as it were so many temptations to shake the faith of the people of God. He begins with the good health which they enjoy, telling us, that they are robust and vigorous, and have not to draw their breath with difficulty through continual sicknesses, as will often be the case with regard to true believers. 161 Some explain bands to death, as meaning delays, viewing the words as implying that the wicked die suddenly, and in a moment, not having to struggle with the pangs of dissolution. In the book of Job it is reckoned among the earthly felicities of the ungodly, That, after having enjoyed to the full their luxurious pleasures, they “in a moment go down to the grave,” (Job 21:13.) And it is related of Julius Caesar, that, the day before he was put to death, he remarked, that to die suddenly and unexpectedly, seemed to him to be a happy death. Thus, then, according to the opinion of these expositors, David complains that the wicked go to death by a smooth and easy path, without much trouble and anxiety. But I am rather inclined to agree with those who read these two clauses jointly in this way: Their strength is vigorous, and, in respect to them, there are no bands to death; because they are not dragged to death like prisoners. 162 As diseases lay prostrate our strength, they are so many messengers of death, warning us of the frailty and short duration of our life. They are therefore with propriety compared to bands, with which God binds us to his yoke, lest our strength and rigour should incite us to licentiousness and rebellion.
5. They are not in the trouble that is common to man. Here it is declared that the wicked enjoy a delightful repose, and are as it were by special privilege exempted from the miseries to which mankind in general are subject. They also are no doubt involved in afflictions as well as the good, and God often executes his judgments upon them; but, for the express purpose of trying our faith, he always places some of them as it were upon an elevated stage, who appear to be privileged to live in a state of exemption from calamities, as is here described. Now, when we consider that the life of men is full of labor and miseries, and that this is the law and condition of living appointed for all, it is a sore temptation to behold the despisers of God indulging themselves in their luxurious pleasures and enjoying great ease, as if they were elevated above the rest of the world into a region of pleasure, where they had a nest for themselves apart. 163
6. Therefore pride compasseth them as a chain. This complaint proceeds farther than the preceding; for we are here told that although God sees the ungodly shamefully and wickedly abusing his kindness and clemency, he notwithstanding bears with their ingratitude and rebellion. The Psalmist employs a similitude taken from the dress and attire of the body, to show that such persons glory in their evil deeds. The verb ענק, anak, which we have rendered, encompasseth them as a chain, comes from a noun which signifies a chain. The language, therefore, implies that the ungodly glory in their audacity and madness, as if they were richly adorned with a chain of gold: 164 and that violence serves them for raiment, thinking, as they do, that it renders them very stately and honorable. Some translate the Hebrew word שית, shith, which we have rendered raiment, by buttocks; but this is a sense which the scope of the passage will by no means admit. David, I have no doubt, after having commenced at the neck or head — for the Hebrew verb ענק, anak which he uses, signifies also sometimes to crown 165 — now meant to comprehend, in one word, the whole attire of the person. The amount of what is stated is, that the wicked are so blinded with their prosperity, as to become more and more proud and insolent 166 The Psalmist has very properly put pride first in order, and then added violence to it as its companion; for what is the reason why the ungodly seize and plunder whatever they can get on all sides, and exercise so much cruelty, but because they account all other men as nothing in comparison of themselves; or rather persuade themselves that mankind are born only for them? The source, then, and, as it were, the mother of all violence, is pride.
7. Their eye goeth out for fatness. 167 He now adds, that it is not wonderful to see the ungodly breaking forth with such violence and cruelty, since, by reason of fatness and pampering, their eyes are ready to start out of their heads. Some explain the words goeth out as meaning, that their eyes being covered and hidden with fat, were, so to speak, lost, and could not be perceived in their sockets. But as fat causes the eyes to project from the head, I prefer retaining the proper meaning of the words. Let it, however, be observed, that David is not to be understood as speaking of the bodily countenance, but as expressing metaphorically the pride with which the ungodly are inflated on account of the abundance which they possess. They so glut and intoxicate themselves with their prosperity, that afterwards they are ready to burst with pride. The last clause of the verse is also explained in two ways. Some think that by the verb עבר, abar, which we have translated passed beyond, is denoted unbridled presumption; 168 for the ungodly are not contented to keep themselves within ordinary bounds, but in their wild and extravagant projects mount above the clouds. We know, in fact, that they often deliberate with themselves how they may take possession of the whole world; yea, they would wish God to create new worlds for them. In short, being altogether insatiable, they pass beyond heaven and earth in their wild and unbounded desires. It would certainly not be inappropriate to explain the verb as meaning, that their foolish thoughts can be regulated by no law, nor kept within any bounds. But there is another exposition which is also very suitable, namely, that the prosperity and success which they meet with exceed all the flattering prospects which they had pictured in their imaginations. We certainly see some of them who obtain more than ever they had desired, as if, whilst they were asleep, Fortune laid nets and fished for them, 169 — the device under which king Demetrius was in old time wittily painted, who had taken so many cities, although otherwise he was neither skillful nor vigilant, nor of great foresight. If we are inclined to take this view of the words, this clause will be added by way of exposition, to teach us what is meant by that fatness, spoken of before — that it means that God heaps upon the wicked, and fills them with, an abundance of all good things, beyond what they had ever either desired or thought of.
8. They become insolent, and wickedly talk of extortion. Some take the verb ימיקו, yamicu, in an active transitive sense, and explain it as meaning, that the wicked soften, that is to say, render others pusillanimous, or frighten and intimidate them. 170 But as the idiom of the language admits also of its being understood in the neuter sense, I have adopted the interpretation which agreed best with the scope of the passage, namely, that the wicked, forgetting themselves to be men, and by their unbounded audacity trampling under foot all shame and honesty, dissemble not their wickedness, but, on the contrary, loudly boast of their extortion. And, indeed, we see that wicked men, after having for some time got every thing to prosper according to their desires, cast off all sham and are at no pains to conceal themselves when about to commit iniquity, but loudly proclaim their own turpitude. “What!” they will say, “is it not in my power to deprive you of all that you possess, and even to cut your throat?” Robbers, it is true, can do the same thing; but then they hide themselves for fear. These giants, or rather inhuman monsters, of whom David speaks, on the contrary not only imagine that they are exempted from subjection to any law, but, unmindful of their own weakness, foam furiously, as if there were no distinction between good and evil, between right and wrong. If, however, the other interpretation should be preferred, That the wicked intimidate the simple and peaceable by boasting of the great oppressions and outrages which they can perpetrate upon them, I do not object to it. When the poor and the afflicted find themselves at the mercy of these wicked men, they cannot but tremble, and, so to speak, melt and dissolve upon seeing them in possession of so much power. With respect to the expression, They speak from on high, 171 implies, that they pour forth their insolent and abusive speech upon the heads of all others. As proud men, who disdain to look directly at any body, are said, in the Latin tongue, despicere, and in the Greek, Katablepein, that is, to look down; 172 so David introduces them as speaking from on high, because it seems to them that they have nothing in common with other men, but think themselves a distinct class of beings, and, as it were, little gods. 173
9. They have set their mouth against the heavens. Here it is declared that they utter their contumelious speeches as well against God as against men; for they imagine that nothing is too arduous for them to attempt, and flatter themselves that heaven and earth are subject to them. If any should endeavor to alarm them by setting before them the power of God, they audaciously break through this barrier; and, with respect to men, they have no idea of any difficulty arising from such a quarter. Thus, there is no obstacle to repress their proud and vaunting speeches, but their tongue walketh through the whole earth. This form of expression seems to be hyperbolical; but when we consider how great and unbounded their presumption is, we will admit that the Psalmist teaches nothing but what experience shows to be matter of fact.
10. On this account his people will return hither, and waters of a full cup will be wrung out to them. 11. And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High? 12. Behold! These are the ungodly, and yet they enjoy repose [or quietness] for ever: they heap up riches. 13. Surely I have purified my heart in vain, and washed my hands daily. 174 14. And I have been scourged daily, and my chastisement has been every morning.
10. On this account his people will return hither. Commentators wrest this sentence into a variety of meanings. In the first place, as the relative his is used, without an antecedent indicating whose people are spoken of, some understand it simply of the ungodly, as if it had been said, That the ungodly always fall back upon this reflection: and they view the word people as denoting a great troop or band; for as soon as a wicked man raises his standard, he always succeeds in drawing a multitude of associates after him. They, therefore, think the meaning to be, that every prosperous ungodly man has people flocking about him, as it were, in troops; and that, when within his palace or magnificent mansion, they are content with getting water to drink; so much does this perverse imagination bewitch them. But there is another sense much more correct, and which is also approved by the majority of commentators; namely, that the people of God 175 return hither. Some take the word הלם, halom, which we have rendered hither, as denoting afflicted; 176 but this is a forced interpretation.
The meaning is not, however, as yet, sufficiently evident, and therefore we must inquire into it more closely. 177 Some read the whole verse connectedly, thus: The people of God return hither, that they may drain full cups of the water of sorrow. But, in my opinion, this verse depends upon the preceding statements, and the sense is, That many who had been regarded as belonging to the people of God were carried away by this temptation, and were even shipwrecked and swallowed up by it. The prophet does not seem to speak here of the chosen people of God, but only to point to hypocrites and counterfeit Israelites who occupy a place in the Church. He declares that such persons are overwhelmed in destruction, because, being foolishly led away to envy the wicked, and to desire to follow them, 178 they bid adieu to God and to all religion. Still, however, this might, without any impropriety, be referred to the chosen seed, many of whom are so violently harassed by this temptation, that they turn aside into crooked by-paths: not that they devote themselves to wickedness, but because they do not firmly persevere in the right path. The sense then will be, that not only the herd of the profane, but even true believers, who have determined to serve God, are tempted with this unlawful and perverse envy and emulation. 179 What follows, Waters of a full cup are wrung out to them, 180 seems to be the reason of the statement in the preceding clause, implying that they are tormented with vexation and sorrow, when no advantage appears to be derived from cultivating true religion. To be saturated with waters is put metaphorically for to drink the bitterest distresses, and to be filled with immeasurable sorrows.
11. And they say, How doth God know? Some commentators maintain that the Prophet here returns to the ungodly, and relates the scoffings and blasphemies with which they stimulate and stir up themselves to commit sin; but of this I cannot approve. David rather explains what he had stated in the preceding verse, as to the fact that the faithful fall into evil thoughts and wicked imaginations when the short-lived prosperity of the ungodly dazzles their eyes. He tells us that they begin then to call in question, Whether there is knowledge in God. Among worldly men, this madness is too common. Ovid thus speaks in one of his verses:
“Sollicitor nullos esse putare deos;”
“I am tempted to think that there are no gods.”
It was, indeed, a heathen poet who spake in this manner; but as we know that the poets express the common thoughts of men, and the language which generally predominates in their minds, 181 it is certain that he spake, as it were, in the person of the great mass of mankind, when he frankly confessed, that as soon as any adversity happens, men forget all knowledge of God. They not only doubt whether there is a God, but they even enter into debate with, and chide him. What else is the meaning of that complaint which we meet with in the ancient Latin Poet-
“Nec Saturnius haec oculis pater adspicit aequis:”
“Nor does the great god, the son of Saturn, regard these things with impartial eyes,” — but that the woman, of whom he there speaks, accuses her god Jupiter of unrighteousness, because she was not dealt with in the way which she desired? It is then too common, among the unbelieving part of mankind, to deny that God cares for and governs the world, and to maintain that all is the result of chance. 182 But David here informs us that even true believers stumble in this respect: not that they break forth into this blasphemy, but because they are unable, all at once, to keep their minds under restraint when God seems to cease from executing his office. The expostulation of Jeremiah is well known,
“Righteous art thou, O Lord! when I plead with thee; yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? Wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?” (Jer 12:1)
It appears from that passage that even the godly are tempted to doubt of the Providence of God, but at the same time that doubts on this subject do not go very deep into their hearts; for Jeremiah at the outset protests the contrary; and by doing so, puts, as it were, a bridle upon himself. Yet they do not always so speedily anticipate the snares of Satan, as to avoid asking, under the influence of a doubting spirit, how it can happen, if God really regards the world, that he does not remedy the great confusion which prevails in it? Of those who impiously prate against God by denying his Providence, there are two sorts. Some openly pour out their blasphemies, asserting that God, delighting in ease and pleasure, cares about nothing, but leaves the government of all things to chance. Others, although they keep their thoughts on this subject to themselves, and are silent before men, yet cease not secretly to fret against God, and to accuse him of injustice or of indolence, in conniving at wickedness, neglecting the godly, and allowing all things to be involved in confusion, and to go to wreck. But the people of God, before these perverse and detestable thoughts enter deep into their hearts, disburden themselves into the bosom of God, 183 and their only desire is to acquiesce in his secret judgments, the reason of which is hidden from them. The meaning of this passage, therefore, is, that not only the wicked, when they see things in the world so full of disorder, conceive only of a blind government, which they attribute to fortune or chance; but that even true believers themselves are shaken, so as to doubt of the Providence of God; and that unless they were wonderfully preserved by his hand, they would be completely swallowed up in this abyss.
12. Behold! these are the ungodly. The Psalmist here shows, as it were by a vivid pictorial representation, the character of that envy which had well nigh overthrown him. Behold! says he, these are wicked men! and yet they happily enjoy their ease and pleasures undisturbed, and are exalted to power and influence; and that not merely for a few days, but their prosperity is of long duration, and has, as it were, an endless course. And is there anything which seems to our judgment less reasonable than that persons whose wickedness is accounted infamous and detestable, even in the eyes of men, should be treated with such liberality and indulgence by God? Some here take the Hebrew word עולם, olam, for the world, but improperly. It rather denotes in this passage an age; 184 and what David complains of is, that the prosperity of the wicked is stable and of long duration, and that to see it last so long wears out the patience of the righteous. Upon seeing the wicked so tenderly cherished by God, he descends to the consideration of his own case; and as his conscience bore him testimony that he had walked sincerely and uprightly, he reasons with himself as to what advantage he had derived from studiously devoting himself to the practice of righteousness, since he was afflicted and harassed in a very unusual degree. He tells us that he was scourged daily, and that as often as the sun rose, some affliction or other was prepared for him, so that there was no end to his calamities. In short the amount of his reasoning is this, “Truly I have labored in vain to obtain and preserve a pure heart and clean hands, seeing continued afflictions await me, and, so to speak, are on the watch to meet me at break of day. Such a condition surely shows that there is no reward for innocence before God, else he would certainly deal somewhat more compassionately towards those who serve him.” As the true holiness for which the godly are distinguished consists of two parts, first, of purity of heart, and, secondly, of righteousness in the outward conduct, David attributes both to himself. Let us learn, from his example, to join them together: let us, in the first place, begin with purity of heart, and then let us give evidence of this before men by uprightness and integrity in our conduct.
15. If I should say, I will speak thus, Behold! the generation of thy children: I have transgressed. 185 16. Although I applied my mind to know this, it was a trouble [or, a painful thing] in my sight; 17. Until I entered into the sanctuaries of God, and understood 186 their latter end.
15. If I should say, I will speak thus. David, perceiving the sinfulness of the thoughts with which he was tempted, puts a bridle upon himself, and reproves his inconstancy in allowing his mind to entertain doubts on such a subject. We can be at no loss in discovering his meaning; but there is some difficulty or obscurity in the words. The last Hebrew verb in the verse, בגד, bagad, signifies to transgress, and also to deceive. Some, therefore, translate, I have deceived the generation of thy children, as if David had said, Were I to speak thus, I should defraud thy children of their hope. Others read, I have transgressed against the generation of thy children; that is, Were I to speak thus, I would be guilty of inflicting an injury upon them. But as the words of the prophet stand in this order, Behold! the generation of thy children: I have transgressed; and as a very good meaning may be elicited from them, I would expound them simply in this way: Were I to approve of such wicked thoughts and doubts, I would transgress; for, behold! the righteous are still remaining on the earth, and thou reservest in every age some people for thyself. Thus it will be unnecessary to make any supplement to complete the sense, and the verb בגדתי, bagadti, I have transgressed, will read by itself, and not construed with any other part of the verse. We have elsewhere had occasion to observe, that the Hebrew noun דור, dor, which we have rendered generation, is properly to be referred to time. The idea which David intends to convey is now perfectly obvious. Whilst worldly men give loose reins to their unhallowed speculations, until at length they become hardened, and, divesting themselves of all fear of God, cast away along with it the hope of salvation, he restrains himself that he may not rush into the like destruction. To speak or to declare 187 here signifies to utter what had been meditated upon. His meaning, therefore, is, that had he pronounced judgment on this subject as of a thing certain, he would have been chargeable with a very heinous transgression. He found himself before involved in doubt, but now he acknowledges that he had grievously offended; and the reason of this he places between the words in which he expresses these two states of mind: which is, because God always sees to it, that there are some of his own people remaining in the world. He seems to repeat the demonstrative particle, Behold! for the sake of contrast. He had a little before said, Behold! these are the ungodly; and here he says, Behold! the generation of thy children. It is assuredly nothing less than a divine miracle that the Church, which is so furiously assaulted by Satan and innumerable hosts of enemies, continues safe.
16. Although I applied my mind to know this. The first verb חשב, chashab, which he employs, properly signifies to reckon or count, and sometimes to consider or weigh. But the words which follow in the sentence require the sense which I have given, That he applied his mind to know the part of Divine Providence referred to. He has already condemned himself for having transgressed; but still he acknowledges, that until he entered into the sanctuaries of God, he was not altogether disentangled from the doubts with which his mind had been perplexed. In short, he intimates that he had reflected on this subject on all sides, and yet, by all his reasoning upon it, could not comprehend how God, amidst so great disorders and confusions, continued to govern the world. Moreover, in speaking thus of himself, he teaches us, that when men are merely under the guidance of their own understandings, the inevitable consequence is, that they sink under their trouble, not being able by their own deliberations and reasonings to arrive at any certain or fixed conclusions; for there is no doubt that he puts the sanctuaries of God in opposition to carnal reason. Hence it follows, that all the knowledge and wisdom which men have of their own is vain and unsubstantial; since all true wisdom among men — all that deserves to be so called — consists in this one point, 188 That they are docile, and implicitly submit to the teaching of the Word of God. The Psalmist does not speak of unbelievers who are wilfully blind, who involve themselves in errors, and are also very glad to find some color or pretext for taking offense, that they may withdraw to a distance from God. It is of himself that he speaks; and although he applied his mind to the investigation of divine subjects, not only earnestly, but with all humility; and although, at the same time, he contemplated, according to his small measure, the high judgments of God, not only with attention, but also with reverence, yet he confesses that he failed of success; for the word trouble 189 here implies unprofitable or lost labor. Whoever, therefore, in applying himself to the examination of God’s judgments, expects to become acquainted with them by his natural understanding, will be disappointed, and will find that he is engaged in a task at once painful and profitless; and, therefore, it is indispensably necessary to rise higher, and to seek illumination from heaven.
By the sanctuaries of God some, even among the Hebrews, understand the celestial mansions in which the spirits of the just and angels dwell; as if David had said, This was a painful thing in my sight, until I came to acknowledge in good earnest that men are not created to flourish for a short time in this world, and to luxuriate in pleasures while in it, but that their condition here is that of pilgrims, whose aspirations, during their earthly pilgrimage, should be towards heaven. I readily admit that no man can form a right judgment of the providence of God; but he who elevates his mind above the earth; but it is more simple and natural to understand the word sanctuary as denoting celestial doctrine. As the book of the law was laid up in the sanctuary, from which the oracles of heaven were to be obtained, that is to say, the declaration of the will of God, 190 and as this was the true way of acquiring profitable instruction, David very properly puts entering into the sanctuaries, 191 for coming to the school of God, as if his meaning were this, Until God become my schoolmaster, and until I learn by his word what otherwise my mind, when I come to consider the government of the world, cannot comprehend, I stop short all at once, and understand nothing about the subject. When, therefore, we are here told that men are unfit for contemplating the arrangements of Divine Providence until they obtain wisdom elsewhere than from themselves, how can we attain to wisdom but by submissively receiving what God teaches us both by his Word and by his Holy Spirit? David by the word sanctuary alludes to the external manner of teaching, which God had appointed among his ancient people; but along with the Word he comprehends the secret illumination of the Holy Spirit.
By the end of the wicked is not meant their exit from the world, or their departure from the present life, which is seen of all men — for what need was there to enter into the sanctuaries of God to understand that? — but the word end is to be regarded as referring to the judgments of God, by which he makes it manifest that, even when he is commonly thought to be asleep, he only delays to a convenient time the execution of the punishment which the wicked deserve. This must be explained at greater length. If we would learn from God what is the condition of the ungodly, he teaches us, that after having flourished for some short time, they suddenly decay; and that although they may happen to enjoy a continued course of prosperity until death, yet all that is nothing, since their life itself is nothing. As, then, God declares that all the wicked shall miserably perish, if we behold him executing manifest vengeance upon them in this life, let us remember that it is the judgment of God. If, on the contrary, we do not perceive any punishment inflicted on them in this world, let us beware of thinking that they have escaped, or that they are the objects of the Divine favor and approbation; 192 but let us rather suspend our judgment, since the end or the last day has not yet arrived. In short, if we would profit aright, when we address ourselves to the consideration of the works of God, we must first beseech him to open our eyes, (for these are sheer fools who would of themselves be clear-sighted, and of a penetrating judgment;) and, secondly, we must also give all due respect to his word, by assigning to it that authority to which it is entitled.
18. Surely thou hast set them in slippery places; thou shalt cast them down into destruction. 19. How have they been destroyed, as it were in a moment! they have perished, they have been consumed with terrors. 20. As it were a dream after a man is awakened: O Lord! in awaking, 193 thou wilt make their image to be despised, [or contemptible.]
18. Surely thou hast set them in slippery places. David, having now gone through his conflicts, begins, if we may use the expression, to be a new man; and he speaks with a quiet and composed mind, being, as it were, elevated on a watchtower, from which he obtained a clear and distinct view of things which before were hidden from him. It was the prophet Habakkuk’s resolution to take such a position, and, by his example, he prescribes this to us as a remedy in the midst of troubles — “I will stand upon my watch,” says he, “and set me upon the tower,” (Hab 2:1.) David, therefore, shows how much advantage is to be derived from approaching God. I now see, says he, how thou proceedest in thy providence; for, although the ungodly continue to stand for a brief season, yet they are, as it were, perched on slippery places, 194 that they may fall ere long into destruction. Both the verbs of this verse are in the past tense; but the first, to set them in slippery places, is to be understood of the present time, as if it had been said, — God for a short period thus lifts them up on high, that when they fall their fall may be the heavier. This, it is true, seems to be the lot of the righteous as well as of the wicked; for everything in this world is slippery, uncertain, and changeable. But as true believers depend upon heaven, or rather, as the power of God is the foundation on which they rest, it is not said of them that they are set in slippery places, notwithstanding the frailty and uncertainty which characterises their condition in this world. What although they stumble or even fall, the Lord has his hand under them to sustain and strengthen them when they stumble, and to raise them up when they are fallen. The uncertainty of the condition of the ungodly, or, as it is here expressed, their slippery condition, proceeds from this, that they take pleasure in contemplating their own power and greatness, and admire themselves on that account, just like a person who would walk at leisure upon ice; 195 and thus by their infatuated presumption, they prepare themselves for falling down headlong. We are not to picture to our imaginations a wheel of fortune, which, as it revolves, embroils all things in confusion; but we must admit the truth to which the prophet here adverts, and which he tells us is made known to all the godly in the sanctuary, that there is a secret providence of God which manages all the affairs of the world. On this subject my readers, if they choose, may peruse the beautiful verses of Claudian in his first book against Ruffinus.
19. How have they been destroyed, as it were in a moment! The language of wonder in which the Psalmist breaks forth serves much to confirm the sentiment of the preceding verse. As the consideration of the prosperity of the ungodly induces a torpor upon our minds, yea, even renders them stupid; so their destruction, being sudden and unlooked for, tends the more effectually to awaken us, each being thus constrained to inquire how such an event came to pass, which all men thought could never happen. The prophet, therefore, speaks of it in the way of interrogation, as of a thing incredible. Yet he, at the same time, thus teaches us that God is daily working in such a manner as that, if we would but open our eyes, there would be presented to us just matter for exciting our astonishment. Nay, rather, if by faith we would look from a distance at the judgments of God daily approaching nearer and nearer, nothing would happen which we would regard as strange or difficult to be believed; for the surprise which we feel proceeds from the slowness and carelessness with which we proceed in acquiring the knowledge of Divine truth. 196 When it is said, They are consumed with terrors, it may be understood in two ways. It either means that God thunders upon them in such an unusual manner, that the very strangeness of it strikes them with dismay; or that God, although he may not lay his hand upon his enemies, nevertheless throws them into consternation, and brings them to nothing, solely by the terror of his breath, at the very time when they are recklessly despising all dangers, as if they were perfectly safe, and had made a covenant with death. 197 Thus we have before seen David introducing them as encouraging themselves in their forwardness by this boasting language, “Who is lord over us?” (Ps 12:4.) I am rather inclined to adopt the first sense; and the reason which leads me to do so is, that when God perceives that we are so slow in considering his judgments, he inflicts upon the ungodly judgments of a very severe kind, and pursues them with unusual tokens of his wrath, as if he would make the earth to tremble, in order thereby to correct our dullness of apprehension.
20. As it were a dream after a man is awakened. This similitude is often to be met with in the Sacred Writings. Thus, Isaiah, (Isa 29:7,) speaking of the enemies of the Church, says, “They shall be as a dream of a night vision.” To quote other texts of a similar kind would be tedious and unnecessary labor. In the passage before us the metaphor is very appropriate. How is it to be accounted for, that the prosperity of the wicked is regarded with so much wonder, but because our minds have been lulled into a deep sleep? and, in short, the pictures which we draw in our imaginations of the happiness of the wicked, and of the desirableness of their condition, are just like the imaginary kingdoms which we construct in our dreams when we are asleep. Those who, being illuminated by the Word of God, are awake, may indeed be in some degree impressed with the splendor with which the wicked are invested; but they are not so dazzled by it as thereby to have their wonder very much excited; for they are prevented from feeling in this manner by a light of an opposite kind far surpassing it in brilliancy and attraction. The prophet, therefore, commands us to awake, that we may perceive that all which we gaze at in this world is nothing else than pure vanity; even as he himself, now returning to his right mind, acknowledges that he had before been only dreaming and raving. The reason is added, because God will make their image to be despised, or render it contemptible. By the word image some understand the soul of man, because it was formed after the image of God. But in my opinion, this exposition is unsuitable; for the prophet simply derides the outward pomp or show 198 which dazzles the eyes of men, while yet it vanishes away in an instant. We have met with a similar form of expression in Ps 39:6, “Surely every man passeth away in an image,” the import of which is, Surely every man flows away like water that has no solidity, or rather like the image reflected in the mirror which has no substance. The word image, then, in this passage means what we commonly term appearance, or outward show; and thus the prophet indirectly rebukes the error into which we fall, when we regard as real and substantial those things which are merely phantoms created out of nothing by our imaginations. The word בעיר, bair, properly signifies in the city. 199 But as this would be a rigid form of expression, it has been judiciously thought by many that the word is curtailed of a letter, and that it is the same as בהעיר, bahair; an opinion which is also supported from the point kamets being placed under ב, beth. According to this view it is to be translated in awakening, that is, after these dreams which deceive us shall have passed away. And that takes place not only when God restores to some measure of order matters which before were involved in confusion, but also when dispelling the darkness he gladdens our minds with a friendly light. We never, it is true, see things so well adjusted in the world as we would desire; for God, with the view of keeping us always in the exercise of hope, delays the perfection of our state to the final day of judgment. But whenever he stretches forth his hand against the wicked, he causes us to see as it were some rays of the break of day, that the darkness, thickening too much, may not lull us asleep, and affect us with dullness of understanding. 200 Some apply this expression, in awaking, to the last judgment, 201 as if David intended to say, In this world the wicked abound in riches and power, and this confusion, which is as it were a dark night, will continue until God shall raise the dead. I certainly admit that this is a profitable doctrine; but it is not taught us in this place, the scope of the passage not at all agreeing with such an interpretation. If any prefer reading in the city — in the city thou wilt make their image to be despised, — the meaning will be, that when God is pleased to bring into contempt the transitory beauty and vain show of the wicked, it will not be a secret or hidden vengeance, but will be quite manifest and known to all, as if it were done in the public market place of a city. But the word awaking suits better, as it is put in opposition to dreaming.
21. For my heart was in a ferment, and I was pierced in my reins. 22. And I was foolish and ignorant: I was with thee as a brute beast. 23. Nevertheless I was continually with thee; thou didst hold my right hand. 24. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel; and at length thou shalt take me to [or receive me into] glory.
21. For my heart was in a ferment. The Psalmist again returns to the confession which he had previously made, acknowledging that whilst he felt his heart pierced with perverse envy and emulation, he had complained against God, in a peevish or fretful manner. He compares his anger to leaven. Some translate, My heart was steeped in vinegar. But it is more suitable to explain the verb thus, My heart was soured or swollen, as dough is swollen by leaven. Thus Plautus, when speaking of a woman inflamed with anger, says that she is all in a ferment. 202 Some read the last clause of the verse, My reins were pierced; and they think that א, aleph, in the beginning of the word, אשתונן, eshtonan, the verb for pierced, is put instead of ה, he; 203 but this makes little difference as to the sense. We know that the word כליות, kelayoth, by which the Hebrews denote the reins, comes from the verb כלא, kalah, which signifies to desire, to covet earnestly, this word being put for the reins, because it is said that the desires of man have their seat in that part of the body. David therefore declares that these perplexing and troublesome thoughts had been, as it were, thorns which pierced him. 204 We have already stated how he came to be affected with this pungent and burning vexation of spirit. We will find many worldly men who, although they deny that the world is governed by the Providence of God, yet do not greatly disquiet themselves, but only laugh at the freaks of Fortune. On the other hand, true believers, the more firmly they are persuaded that God is the judge of the world, are the more afflicted when his procedure does not correspond to their wishes.
22. And I was foolish and ignorant. David here rebuking himself sharply, as it became him to do, in the first place declares that he was foolish; secondly, he charges himself with ignorance; and, thirdly, he affirms that he resembled the brutes. Had he only acknowledged his ignorance, it might have been asked, Whence this vice or fault of ignorance proceeded? He therefore ascribes it to his own folly; and the more emphatically to express his folly, he compares himself to the lower animals. The amount is, that the perverse envy of which he has spoken arose from ignorance and error, and that the blame of having thus erred was to be imputed wholly to himself, inasmuch as he had lost a sound judgment and understanding, and that not after an ordinary manner, but even the length of being reduced to a state of brutish stupidity. What we have previously stated is undoubtedly true, that men never form a right judgment of the works of God; for when they apply their minds to consider them, all their faculties fail, being inadequate to the task; yet David justly lays the blame of failure upon himself, because, having lost the judgment of a man, he had fallen as it were into the rank of the brute creatures. Whenever we are dissatisfied with the manner of God’s providence in governing the world, let us remember that this is to be traced to the perversity of our understanding. The Hebrew word עמך, immach, which we have translated with thee, is here to be taken by way of comparison for before thee; as if David had said, — Lord, although I have seemed in this world to be endued with superior judgment and reason, yet in respect of thy celestial wisdom, I have been as one of the lower animals. It is with the highest propriety that he has inserted this particle. To what is it owing, that men are so deceived by their own folly, as we find them to be, if it is not to this, that while they look at each other, they all inwardly flatter themselves? Among the blind, each thinks that he has one eye, in other words, that he excels the rest; or, at least, he pleases himself with the reflection, that his fellows are in no respect superior to himself in wisdom. But when persons come to God, and compare themselves with him, this prevailing error, in which all are fast asleep, can find no place.
23 Nevertheless I was continually with thee. 205 Here the Psalmist declares, in a different sense, that he was with God. He gives him thanks for having kept him from utterly falling, when he was in so great danger of being precipitated into destruction. The greatness of the favor to which he adverts is the more strikingly manifested from the confession which he made a little before, that he was bereft of judgment, and, as it were, a brute beast; for he richly deserved to be cast off by God, when he dared to murmur against him. Men are said to be with God in two ways; either, first, in respect of apprehension and thought, when they are persuaded that they live in his presence, are governed by his hand, and sustained by his power; or, secondly, when God, unperceived by them, puts upon them a bridle, by which, when they go astray, he secretly restrains them, and prevents them from totally apostatising from him. When a man therefore imagines that God exercises no care about him, he is not with God, as to his own feeling or apprehension; but still that man, if he is not forsaken, abides with God, inasmuch as God’s secret or hidden grace continues with him. In short, God is always near his chosen ones; for although they sometimes turn their backs upon him, he nevertheless has always his fatherly eye turned towards them. When the Psalmist speaks of God as holding him by the right hand, he means that he was, by the wonderful power of God, drawn back from that deep gulf into which the reprobate cast themselves. He then ascribes it wholly to the grace of God that he was enabled to restrain himself from breaking forth into open blasphemies, and from hardening himself in error, and that he was also brought to condemn himself of foolishness; — this he ascribes wholly to the grace of God, who stretched out his hand to hold him up, and prevent him from a fall which would have involved him in destruction. From this we see how precious our salvation is in the sight of God; for when we wander far from him, he yet continues to look upon us with a watchful eye, and to stretch forth his hand to bring us to himself. We must indeed beware of perverting this doctrine by making it a pretext for slothfulness; but experience nevertheless teaches us, that when we are sunk in drowsiness and insensibility, God exercises a care about us, and that even when we are fugitives and wanderers from him, he is still near us. The force of the metaphor contained in the language, which represents God as holding us by the right hand, is to be particularly noticed; for there is no temptation, let it be never so slight, which would not easily overthrow us, were we not upheld and sustained by the power of God. The reason then why we do not succumb, even in the severest conflicts, is nothing else than because we receive the aid of the Holy Spirit. He does not indeed always put forth his power in us in an evident and striking manner, (for he often perfects it in our weakness;) but it is enough that he succours us, although we may be ignorant and unconscious of it, that he upholds us when we stumble, and even lifts us up when we have fallen.
24. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel. As the verbs are put in the future tense, the natural meaning, in my opinion, is, that the Psalmist assured himself that the Lord, since by his leading he had now brought him back into the right way, would continue henceforth to guide him, until at length he received him into His glorious presence in heaven. We know that it is David’s usual way, when he gives thanks to God, to look forward with confidence to the future. Accordingly, after having acknowledged his own infirmities, he celebrated the grace of God, the aid and comfort of which he had experienced; and now he cherishes the hope that the Divine assistance will continue hereafter to be extended to him. Guidance by counsel is put first. Although the foolish and inconsiderate are sometimes very successful in their affairs, (for God remedies our faults and errors, and turns to a prosperous and happy issue things which we had entered upon amiss;) yet the way in which God ordinarily and more abundantly blesses his own people is by giving them wisdom: and we should ask him especially to govern us by the Spirit of counsel and of judgment. Whoever dares, in a spirit of confident reliance on his own wisdom, to engage in any undertaking, will inevitably be involved in confusion and shame for his presumption, since he arrogates to himself what is peculiar to God alone. If David needed to have God for his guide, how much more need have we of being under the Divine guidance? To counsel there is added glory, which, I think, ought not to be limited to eternal life, as some are inclined to do. It comprehends the whole course of our happiness from the commencement, which is seen here upon earth, even to the consummation which we expect to realize in heaven. David then assures himself of eternal glory, through the free and unmerited favor of God, and yet he does not exclude the blessings which God bestows upon his people here below, with the view of affording them, even in this life, some foretaste of that felicity.
25. Who is there to me in heaven? 206 And I have desired none other with thee 207 upon the earth. 26. My flesh and my heart have failed: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. 27. For, lo: they who depart from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all those who go a whoring from thee. 208 28. As for me, it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord Jehovah, that I may recount all thy works. 209
25. Whom have I in heaven but thee? The Psalmist shows more distinctly how much he had profited in the sanctuary of God; for being satisfied with him alone, he rejects every other object, except God, which presented itself to him. The form of expression which he employs, when he joins together an interrogation and an affirmation, is quite common in the Hebrew tongue, although harsh in other languages. As to the meaning, there is no ambiguity. David declares that he desires nothing, either in heaven or in earth, except God alone, and that without God, all other objects which usually draw the hearts of men towards them were unattractive to him. And, undoubtedly, God then obtains from us the glory to which he is entitled, when, instead of being carried first to one object, and then to another, we hold exclusively by him, being satisfied with him alone. If we give the smallest portion of our affections to the creatures, we in so far defraud God of the honor which belongs to him. And yet nothing has been more common in all ages than this sacrilege, and it prevails too much at the present day. How small is the number of those who keep their affections fixed on God alone! We see how superstition joins to him many others as rivals for our affections. While the Papists admit in word that all things depend upon God, they are, nevertheless, constantly seeking to obtain help from this and the other quarter independent of him. Others, puffed up with pride, have the effrontery to associate either themselves or other men with God. On this account we ought the more carefully to attend to this doctrine, That it is unlawful for us to desire any other object besides God. By the words heaven and earth the Psalmist denotes every conceivable object; but, at the same time, he seems purposely to point to these two in particular. In saying that he sought none in heaven but God only, he rejects and renounces all the false gods with which, through the common error and folly of mankind, heaven has been filled. When he affirms that he desires none on the earth besides God, he has, I suppose, a reference to the deceits and illusions with which almost the whole world is intoxicated; for those who are not beguiled by the former artifice of Satan, so as to be led to fabricate for themselves false gods, either deceive themselves by arrogance when confiding in their own skill, or strength, or prudence, they usurp the prerogatives which belong to God alone; or else trepan themselves with deceitful allurements when they rely upon the favor of men, or confide in their own riches and other helps which they possess. If, then, we would seek God aright, we must beware of going astray into various by-paths, and divested of all superstition and pride, must betake ourselves directly and exclusively to Him. This is the only way of seeking him. The expression, I have desired none other with thee, amounts to this: I know that thou by thyself, apart from every other object, art sufficient, yea, more than sufficient for me, and therefore I do not suffer myself to be carried away after a variety of desires, but rest in and am fully contented with thee. In short, that we may be satisfied with God alone, it is of importance for us to know the plenitude of the blessings which he offers for our acceptance.
26. My flesh and my heart have failed. Some understand the first part of the verse as meaning that David’s heart and flesh failed him through the ardent desire with which he was actuated; and they think that by it he intends to testify the earnestness with which he applied his mind to God. We meet with a similar form of expression elsewhere; but the clause immediately succeeding, God is the strength of my heart, seems to require that it should be explained differently. I am rather disposed to think that there is here a contrast between the failing which David felt in himself and the strength with which he was divinely supplied; as if he had said, Separated from God I am nothing, and all that I attempt to do ends in nothing; but when I come to him, I find an abundant supply of strength. It is highly necessary for us to consider what we are without God; for no man will cast himself wholly upon God, but he who feels himself in a fainting condition, and who despairs of the sufficiency of his own powers. We will seek nothing from God but what we are conscious of wanting in ourselves. Indeed, all men confess this, and the greater part think that all which is necessary is that God should aid our infirmities, or afford us succor when we have not the means of adequately relieving ourselves. But the confession of David is far more ample than this when he lays, so to speak, his own nothingness before God. He, therefore, very properly adds, that God is his portion. The portion of an individual is a figurative expression, employed in Scripture to denote the condition or lot with which every man is contented. Accordingly, the reason why God is represented as a portion is, because he alone is abundantly sufficient for us, and because in him the perfection of our happiness consists. Whence it follows, that we are chargeable with ingratitude, if we turn away our minds from him and fix them on any other object, as has been stated in Ps 16:4, where David explains more clearly the import of the metaphor. Some foolishly assert that God is called our portion, because our soul is taken from him. I know not how such a silly conceit has found its way into their brains; for it is as far from David’s meaning as heaven is from the earth, and it involves in it the wild notion of the Manicheans, with which Servetus was bewitched. But it generally happens that men who are not exercised in the Scriptures, nor imbued with sound theology, although well acquainted with the Hebrew language, yet err and fall into mistakes even in first principles. Under the word heart the Psalmist comprehends the whole soul. He does not, however, mean, when he speaks of the heart failing, that the essence or substance of the soul fails, but that all the powers which God in his goodness has bestowed upon it, and the use of which it retains only so long as he pleases, fall into decay.
27. For, lo! they who depart from thee shall perish. Here he proves, by an argument taken from things contrary, that nothing was better for him than simply to repose himself upon God alone; for no sooner does any one depart from God than he inevitably falls into the most dreadful destruction. All depart from him who divide and scatter their hope among a variety of objects. The phrase to go a whoring 210 is of similar import; for it is the worst kind of adultery to divide our heart that it may not continue fixed exclusively upon God. This will be more easily understood by defining the spiritual chastity of our minds, which consists in faith, in calling upon God, in integrity of heart, and in obedience to the Word. Whoever then submits not himself to the Word of God, that feeling him to be the sole author of all good things, he may depend upon him, surrender himself to be governed by him, betake himself to him at all times, and devote to him all his affections, such a person is like an adulterous woman who leaves her own husband, and prostitutes herself to strangers. David’s language then is equivalent to his pronouncing all apostates who revolt from God to be adulterers.
28. As for me, it is good for me to draw near to God. Literally the reading is, And I, etc. David speaking expressly of himself, affirms that although he should see all mankind in a state of estrangement from God, and wandering after the ever-changing errors and superstitions of the world, he would nevertheless study to continue always in a state of nearness to God. Let others perish, says he, if their headstrong passions cannot be restrained, and they themselves prevented from running after the deceits of the world; but as for me, I will continue steadfast in the resolution of maintaining a sacred communion with God. In the subsequent clause he informs us that we draw near to God in a right manner when our confidence continues firmly fixed in him. God will not hold us by his right hand unless we are fully persuaded of the impossibility of our continuing steadfast and safe in any other way than by his grace alone. This passage is worthy of notice, that we may not be carried away by evil examples, to join ourselves to the wicked, and to act as they do, although even the whole world should fall into unbelief; but that we may learn to gather in our affections from other objects, and to confine them exclusively to God. In the close, the Psalmist intimates that after he shall have devoted himself to God alone, he shall never want matter for praising him, since God never disappoints the hope which his people repose in him. From this it follows, that none curse God or murmur against him, but those who wilfully shut their eyes and involve themselves in darkness, lest knowing and observing his providence, they should be induced to give themselves up to his faithfulness and protection.
“Pourveu que nous laissions la providence de Dieu tenir sa procedure par les degrez, qu’il a determinez en son conseil secret.” — Fr.
“Il semble qu’ils ont bon marche de se mocquer de luy, et qu’il n’en sera autre chose.” — Fr.
“Que le monde tourne a l’aventure, et (comme on dit) est gouverne par fortune?” — Fr.
“Ce poinct de doctrine, lequel ils avoyent fait mine de tenir bien resoluement.” — Fr. “This doctrine, which they had made a show of holding very resolutely.”
This particle here expresses the state of mind of a person meditating a difficult question in which he is much interested, and is hardly come to a conclusion; — a state, in the Psalmist’s case, between hope and despair, though strongly inclining to the former.” — Horsley.
“Ceux qui estans descendus d’Abraham n’ensuyvoyent point sa sainctete.” — Fr. “Those who being descended from Abraham did not follow his holiness.”
The original word for the foolish signifies “men of no principle, wild, giddy, vain boasters.” Boothroyd renders it “the madly profane,” and Fry, “the vain-glorious.”
“On scait assez par les histoires le brocard duquel usa anciennement un tyran de Sicile nomme Denis le jeune, quand apres avoir pille le temple de Syracuses, il se mit sur la mer, et veit qu’il avoit fort bon vent pour naviger.” — Fr.
“Et suyvre a leur train.” — Fr.
“Laquelle est le fondement et le comble de sagesse.” — Fr. “Which is the foundation and the cope-stone of wisdom.
Literally, “Their strength is fat.” Jerome renders as if, for אולם, his MSS. had אולמיהם, ‘et firma sunt vestibula eorum;’ ‘their stately mansions are firm.’ The stability of a dwelling is a significant image of general prosperity. — Horsley
“Oppression. Dr Boothroyd joins this word to the latter clause, thus: Concerning oppression they talk loftily. This we think preferable.” — Williams.
“The powerful effects of the tongue are expressed by a like figure in a Greek proverb preserved by Suidas. Τλῶσσα ποῖ πορεύν; πόλιν ἀνορθώσουσα καὶ πόλιν καταστρέψουσα. ‘Tongue, whither goest thou? To build up a city, and to destroy a city.’ Garrulity is called ‘the walk of the tongue’ in a line quoted by Stobaeus (Serm 36) from Astydamas —
Tlw>sshv peri>pato>v ejstin ajdolesci>a.”“
“Comme souvent il en prendra aux fideles.” — Fr.
“They are not dragged to death,” says Poole, “either by the hand or sentence of the magistrate, which yet they deserve, nor by any lingering or grievous torments of mind or body, which is the case with many good men; but they enjoy a sweet and quiet death, dropping into the grave like ripe fruit from the tree, without any violence used to them, (compare Job 5:26 and Job 31:13.) The word translated bands occurs in only one other place of Scripture, Isa 58:6, where in all the ancient versions it is rendered bands But bands will bear various significations. In the Hebrew style it often signifies the pangs of child-birth; and therefore the meaning here may be, they have no pangs in their death; i e., they die an easy death, being suffered to live on to extreme old age, when the flame of life gradually and quietly becomes extinct. It was also used by the Hebrews to express diseases of any kind, and this is the sense, in which Calvin understands it. Thus Jesus says of the “woman who had a spirit of infirmity,” a sore disease inflicted upon her by an evil spirit, “eighteen years,” “Thou art loosed from thine infirmity,” (and loosing, we know, applies to bands:) he again describes her as “this daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years;” and farther says, “Ought she not to be loosed from this bond?” that is, cured of this sickness? Luke 13:11, 12, 16. According to this view, the meaning will be, they have no violent diseases in their death Horsley reads, “There is no fatality in their death.” After observing that the word חרצבות, translated bands, occurs but in one other place in the whole Bible, Isa 58:6; where the LXX. have rendered it συνδεσμον, and the Vulgate colligationes, he says, “From its sense there, and from its seeming affinity with the roots חרף and צבה, I should guess that in a secondary and figurative sense, the word may denote the strongest of all bands or knots, physical necessity, or fate; and in that sense it may be taken here. The complaint is, that the ordinary constitution of the world is supposed to contain no certain provision for the extermination of the impious; that there is no necessary and immediate connection between moral evil and physical, wickedness and death.” The Septuagint reads, ὅτι οὺκ ἔστιν ἀνάνευσις ἐν τῶ Θανάτω αὐτῶν: “For there is no sign of reluctance in their death.” The Vulgate, “Quia non est respectus morti eorum;” “For they do not think of dying,” or, “For they take no notice of their death.” The Chaldee, “They are not terrified or troubled on account of the day of their death.”
“En un lieu de plaisance, et comme pour avoir leur nid a part.” — Fr.
There is here a metaphorical allusion to the rich collars or chains worn about the necks of great personages for ornament. Compare Prov. 1:9, Cant. 4:9. Pride compassed these prosperous wicked men about as a chain; they wore it for an ornament as gold chains or collars were worn about the neck; discovering it by their stately carriage. See Isa 3:16. Or there may be an allusion to the office which some of them bore; for chains of gold were among the ensigns of magistracy and civil power.
Accordingly, the Chaldee, instead of “compasseth them as a chain.” has “crowneth them as a crown or diadem does the head.”
“Violence covereth them as a garment. Wicked men that are prosperous and proud, are generally oppressive to others; and are very often open in their acts of violence, which are as openly done, and to be seen of all men, as the clothes they wear upon their backs; and frequently the clothes they wear are got by rapine and oppression, so that they may properly be called garments of violence. See Isa 59:6.” — Dr Gill.
“Their eyes are starting out for fatness.” — Horsley. “Their eyes swell with fatness — this is a proverbial expression, used to designate the opulent, who are very commonly given to sensuality: comp. Job 15:27; Ps 17:10.” — Cresswell.
“The fantasies of their minds run into excess; i.e., they suffer their imaginations to sway them.” — Cresswell.
“Et pesche pour eux.” Fr.
“Exposans que les meschans amolissent, c’est a dire, rendent lasches les autres, c’est a dire, les espouantent et intimident.” — Fr ימיקו, yamicu, is rendered by Vatablus, Cocceius, Gejer, and Michaelis, “They cause to consume or melt away.” “They melt or dissolve others,” says Dr Gill, “they consume them, and waste their estates by their oppression and violence; they make their hearts to melt with their threatening and terrifying words; or they make them dissolute in their lives by keeping them company.” Mudge reads, “They behave corruptly;” and Horsley, “They are in the last stage of degeneracy.”
The original word, ממרום, memmarom, for from on high, is translated by our English version loftily But Musculus, Junius, Tremellius, Piscator, Mudge, Horsley, and others read with Calvin, from on high They speak from on high, “as if they were in heaven and above all creatures, and even God himself; and as if what they said were oracles, and to be received as such without any scruple and hesitation. Thus Pharaoh, Sennacherib, and Nebuchadnezzar spake, Ex 5:2; Isa 36:20; Da 3:15.” — Dr Gill
“Car comme les Latins et aussi les Grecs, quand ils descrivent la contenance des gens enyvrez d’orgueil, ont des verbes qui signifient Regarder en bas, d’autant que telles gens ne daignent pas regarder droit les personnes.” — Fr. “As the Romans, and also the Greeks, when they describe the countenance of persons intoxicated with pride, have words which mean to look down, because such persons deign not to look directly at other people.”
“Pource qu’il ne leur semble point avis qu’ils ayent rien de commun avec les autres hommes, mais pensent estre quelque chose a part, et comme des petis dieux.” — Fr.
“Et lave mes mains en nettete.” — Fr. “And washed my hands in innocency.” The Psalmist may allude to the rite of ablution which was in use among the Jews. See De 21:6, and Ps 26:6. Or he may be understood as signifying by the metaphor of washing the hands in general, the pains which he took to be blameless in the whole of his outward conduct. “Opposite to the phrase, to wash in innocence,” says Merrick, “is the scelere imbuere of Cicero, (Philipp. v.) ‘Cum autem semel gladium scelere imbuisset,’” etc. See Job 9:30.
The Septuagint, Vulgate, Syriac, Arabic, and Æthiopic versions read, “my people.”
“Abu Walid,” says Hammond, “hath a peculiar way of rendering הלם, as if it were הלם, the infinitive, with breaking of spirit.” A similar interpretation is adopted by Horsley. “For הלם,” says he, “many MSS. read הלום, which I take as the participle Pual of the verb הלם, ‘Contusus miseria,’ scilicet.” He reads,
“Therefore his [God’s] people sit woebegone.”
To make out this translation, he adopts another of the various readings of MSS. “For ישיב,” says he, “many MSS. have ישוב: I would transpose the vau, and read יושב. The third person future, Hophal, signifies is made to sit, is settled, attended with grief and consternation at the unpunished audacity of the profane.”
“Et pourtant il nous y faut aviser de plus pres.” — Fr.
“Stulta aemulatione decepti.” — Lat. “Se abusans par leur folie a porter envie aux meschans, et les vouloir ensuyvre.” — Fr
While Calvin admits that the words, his people, may refer to true believers, he conceives that carnal and hypocritical Israelites are rather intended. One great objection to the opinion, that true believers are at all intended is, that stumbled though they often are at the unequal distributions of the present state, and chargeable though they may be with entertaining murmuring thoughts in reference to this matter, we can scarcely suppose that they would so far depart from every principle of truth and propriety, as to break forth into such language as is ascribed in verse 11th to the persons here spoken of, “How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the Most High?” Neither David nor Jeremiah, though much perplexed in reconciling the prosperity of the wicked and the afflicted state of God’s people, with the righteousness and goodness of Divine Providence, ever gave utterance to any such language. See Ps 38 and Jer 12. Walford thinks that “it is far more agreeable to the design of the entire passage, to interpret the words, his people, of the friends and connections of the wicked, who imitate their actions.” In support of this it may be observed, that the description of the condition, conduct, and words, of these prosperous ungodly men, commences at the 4th verse, and seems to be continued to the 13th verse, where the Psalmist’s reflections upon the subject begin, and are continued to the close of the psalm.
This has also been understood as denoting the prosperity, the abundance of all outward good things bestowed upon the persons referred to.
“Et les discours qui regnent communeement en leur cerveaux.” — Fr.
“Que tout vient a l’aventure.” — Fr.
“En la presence de Dieu.” — Fr. “In the presence of God.”
“Plustost il signifie yci un siecle,” — Fr.
“Ou, J’ay transgresse contre la generation de tes enfans.” — Fr. marg. “Or, I have transgressed against the generation of thy children”
“Aye considere.” — Fr. “Considered.”
The word in the Hebrew text is ספר, saphar Horsley translates it “to argue” —
“If I resolve to argue thus,
I should be a traitor to the generation of thy children.”
“The verb ספר,” says he, “which literally signifies to count or reckon, may easily signify ‘to reason within one’s self, to syllogise,’ as is indeed the case with the corresponding words of many languages; as λογιζεσθαι, ratiocinari, putare, reckon, count.”
“D’autant que toute la vraye sagesse qui doit estre ainsi nommee es hommes, consiste en un seul poinct.” — Fr.
Green translates the Hebrew word for this, “hard;” Horsley, “perplexing;” and Boothroyd, “difficult.”
“C’est a dire, la declaration de la volonte de Dieu.” — Fr.
“It is remarkable,” observes Horsley, “that the original word for ‘sanctuary,’ in this place, is plural, which is unexampled when the sanctuary is literally meant.” He considers the expression, “Until I went into the sanctuary of God,” as meaning, “Till I entered into the secret grounds of God’s dealings with mankind.” Cresswell explains it — “Until I entered into the grounds of God’s dealings with men, as explained by the sacred writings, which are laid up in the place dedicated to his worship.”
“Gardons-nous de penser qu’ils soyent eschappez, ou que Dieu leur favorise.” — Fr.
Martin thinks that there is here an allusion to the time at which judicial sentences were pronounced, which was in the morning, when men awoke from the sleep of night.
“Comme junchez en lieux glissans.” — Fr.
“Qu’ils prenent plaisir a contempler leur puissance et grandeur, et sy mirent, comme qui voudroit se pourmener a loisir sur la glace.” — Fr.
“De nostre tardivete et nonchalance a profiter en la doctrine.” — Fr.
“They are utterly consumed with terrors; their destruction is not only sudden, but entire; it is like the breaking in pieces of a potter’s vessel, a sherd of which cannot be gathered up and used; or like the casting of a millstone into the sea, which will never rise more: and this is done with terrors, — either by terrible judgments inflicted on them from without, or with terrors inwardly seizing upon their minds and consciences, as at the time of temporal calamities, or at death, and certainly at the judgment, when the awful sentence will be pronounced upon them. See Job 27:20.” — Dr. Gill.
With this agree Bishop Horsley and Dr Adam Clarke. The former translates: —
“Like the dream of a man beginning to wake publicly,
O Lord! thou renderest their vain show contemptible.”
The latter: —
“Like to a dream after one awaketh,
So wilt thou, O Jehovah! when thou risest up,
Destroy their shadowy grandeur.”
The original word, צלם tselem, for image, means likeness, corporeal or incorporeal; and it agrees with צל, tsel, a shade, because an image is, as if the shade or shadow of the body. See Bythner on Ps 39:6. “It seems to be taken here,” says Hammond, “for that which hath a fantastical only in opposition to a real substantial being.” “The Hebrew term,” says Walford, “means an unsubstantial appearance, splendid while it continues, but which in an instant disappears.” The prosperity which wicked men for a time enjoy, their greatness, riches, honor, and happiness, however dazzling and imposing, is thus nothing more than an image or shadow of prosperity, an empty phantom; and within a short period it ceases to be even so much as a shadow, it absolutely vanishes and comes to nothing, convincing the good but afflicted man, to whom it seemed to involve in doubt the rectitude of the Divine government, what is its real character, and that it should never occasion any perplexity to the student of Divine Providence.
The LXX. read, ἐν τη πόλει σου, “in thy city,” deriving the original word from עיר ir, a city Such, also, is the reading of the Vulgate, Arabic, and Æthiopic versions. But the word comes from עור, ur, to awahe, and is in the infinitive hiph ב, beth, excluding ה, he, characteristic of the conjugation.
“As a dream of one who awaketh. The thought here is, as a pleasing dream vanishes instantly on awaking, so the pleasures of these men will vanish, and show their unsubstantial nature, when God shall effect his righteous judgement.” — Walford. Then the prosperity of the wicked is seen to be fantastic, and to consist only of “such stuff as dreams are made of.”
“The Chaldee in their paraphrase refer it to the day of judgment, when wicked men shall rise out of their graves, and God proceed in wrath against them, (תבסר ברגז דמותהון, ‘in fury shalt thou scorn or despise them,’) according to that expression of Da 12:2, ‘Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to shame and everlasting contempt.’” — Hammond
Plautus’ words are, “Mea uxor tota in fermento jacet;” “My wife lies all in a ferment.” In like manner he says, “Ecquid habet acetum in pectore?” “Has he any vinegar in his breast?”
This is Kimchi’s and Houbigant’s opinion.
“The Hebrew verb [for pierced] indicates the acute pain felt from a sharp weapon. (See Parkhurst, on שנן, iv.) Common experience shows that the workings of the mind, particularly the passions of joy, grief, and fear, have a very remarkable effect on the reins or kidneys.” — Mant
“Notwithstanding these foolish thoughts, I am under the care of thy good providence.” — Patrick.
Calvin here gives the literal rendering of the original Hebrew. The question appears elliptical; and accordingly, in the French version he has introduced the supplement, “si non toy?” “but thee?” — “Who is there to me in heaven but thee?”
“C’est, outre toy.” — Fr. marg. “That is, beyond or besides thee.”
“Ascavoir, en te delaissant.” — Fr. marg. “Namely, in forsaking thee.”
The Septuagint here adds, ἐυ ταῖς πύλαις της θυγατρὸς Σιών; “in the gates of the daughter of Zion.” The Vulgate, Arabic, and Æthiopic versions have the same addition. This seems to make a better conclusion; but these words are not in our present copies of the Hebrew Bible, nor are they supported by any of the MSS. yet collated.
“Go a whoring, etc.; i.e., forsake God for false gods, which is spiritual adultery.” — Sutcliffe. When God is said to have destroyed such as do this, some think there is an allusion to that part of the Mosaic law which doomed idolaters to be punished with death, as guilty of high treason against Jehovah the King of Israel.