Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 10: Psalms, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
There is here celebrated the grace and truth of God in having, according to his promise that he would be the protector of the city of Jerusalem, defended it by his wonderful power against enemies, who were renowned for their warlike valor, and well equipped with everything requisite for war. 264
To the chief musician upon Neginoth. A Psalm of Asaph. A Song.
This psalm, it is probable, was composed after the death of David; and, accordingly, some think that what is here described is that deliverance of the Jews from the Ammonites which took place in the reign of king Jehoshaphat. But I am rather inclined to adopt a different opinion, and to refer the psalm to that deliverance which they obtained from the Assyrians, recorded in 2Ki 19. The Assyrians, under the conduct of Sennacherib, not only invaded Judea, but also made a violent assault upon the city of Jerusalem, the capital of the kingdom. The result of this is well known. They were compelled to raise the siege by the miraculous interference of God, who in one night destroyed that army with dreadful slaughter by the hand of his angel, (2Ki 19:35.) 265 Hence the prophet, not inappropriately, affirms that God broke the arrows, the swords, and the shields. The point, however, which is chiefly necessary to be known and attended to is, that the continual care of God in defending the Church, which he has chosen, is here celebrated to encourage the faithful without any doubt or hesitation to glory in his protection.
1. God is known in Judah; his name is great in Israel. 2. And his tabernacle was in Salem, and his dwelling-place in Zion. 3. There he broke the arrows of the bow, the shield, and the sword, and the battle. Selah. 4. Thou art more glorious and terrible than the mountains of prey. 5. The stout hearted were spoiled, they slept their sleep, 266 and all the men of might have not found their hands. 6. At thy rebuke, O God of Jacob! the chariot and the horse were cast into a deep sleep.
1. God is known in Judah. In the outset, we are taught that it was not by human means that the enemies of Israel were compelled to retire without accomplishing any thing, but by the ever-to-be-remembered aid of Jehovah. Whence came that knowledge of God and the greatness of his name which are spoken of, but because He stretched forth his hand in an extraordinary manner, to make it openly manifest that both the chosen people and the city were under his defense and protection? It is therefore asserted, that the glory of God was conspicuously displayed when the enemies of Israel were discomfited by such a miraculous interposition.
2. And his tabernacle was in Salem Here the reason is assigned why God, putting the Assyrians to flight, vouchsafed to deliver the city of Jerusalem, and to take it under his protection. The reason is, because he had there chosen for himself a dwelling-place, in which his name was to be called upon. The amount, in short, is, first, that men had no ground to arrogate to themselves any share in the deliverance of the city here portrayed, God having strikingly showed that all the glory was his own, by displaying from heaven his power in the sight of all men; and, secondly, that he was induced to oppose his enemies from no other consideration but that of his free choice of the Jewish nation. God having, by this example, testified that his power is invincible for preserving his Church, it is a call and an encouragement to all the faithful to repose with confidence under his shadow. If his name is precious to himself, it is no ordinary pledge and security which he gives to our faith when he assures us that it is his will that the greatness of his power should be known in the preservation of his Church. Moreover, as the Church is a distinguished theater on which the Divine glory is displayed, we must always take the greatest care not to shroud or bury in forgetfulness, by our ingratitude, the benefits which have been bestowed upon it, and especially those which ought to be held in remembrance in all ages. Farther, although God is not now worshipped in the visible tabernacle, yet as by Christ he still dwells in the midst of us, yea even within us, we will doubtless experience, whenever we are exposed to danger, that under his protection we are in perfect safety. If the earthly sanctuary of Jerusalem afforded to God’s ancient people succor while it stood, we may rest assured that he will have no less care of us who live in the present day, when we consider that he has vouchsafed to choose us as his temples in which he may dwell by his Holy Spirit. Here the prophet, in speaking of Jerusalem, uses merely the name of Salem, which was the simple and uncompounded name of the city, and had been applied to it very anciently, as appears from Ge 14:18. Some think that the name in the course of time assumed its compound form, by having Jebus prefixed to Salem; for Jebus was the name by which it was afterwards known in the intervening period, as we learn from the Book of Judges, Jud 19:10, it being so called because it was inhabited by the Jebusites. But we will be more correct as to the etymology of the word, if we derive it from the verb יראה, yereh, which signifies will see, 267 because Abraham said,
“God will look out for himself a lamb for a burnt-offering,” (Ge 22:8.)
3. There he broke the arrows of the bow. We have here stated the particular way in which God was known in Judah. He was known by the wonderful proofs of his power, which he exhibited in preserving the city. Under these figures is described the destruction of the enemies of the chosen people. 268 They could not otherwise have been overthrown than by being despoiled of their armor and weapons of war. It is therefore said, that the arrows, the swords, and the shields, were broken, yea, all the implements of war; implying that these impious enemies of the Church were deprived of the power of doing harm. The fact indeed is, that they were wounded and slain, while their weapons remained uninjured; but this metonymy, by which what befell themselves is represented as happening to their implements of war, is not improper. Some translate the word רשפים, reshaphim, points of weapons! Properly, it should be rendered fires; 269 but it is more accurate to take it for arrows. Even birds are sometimes metaphorically so called, on account of their swiftness; and flying is attributed to arrows in Ps 91:6
It is farther added, (verse 4th,) that God is more glorious and terrible than the mountains of prey By the mountains of prey, is meant kingdoms distinguished for their violence and extortion. We know that from the beginning, he who exercised himself most in robbery and pillage, was the man who most enlarged his borders and became greatest. The Psalmist, therefore, here compares those great kings, who had acquired large dominions by violence and the shedding of human blood, to savage beasts, who live only upon prey, and their kingdoms to mountains covered with forests, which are inhabited by beasts inured to live by the destruction of other animals. The enemies of God’s ancient people had been accustomed to make violent and furious assaults upon Jerusalem; but it is affirmed that God greatly surpassed them all in power that the faithful might not be overwhelmed with terror.
5. The stout-hearted were spoiled, The power of God in destroying his enemies is here exalted by another form of expression. The verb אשתוללו, eshtolelu, which we translate were spoiled, is derived from שלל, shalal, and the letter א, aleph, is put instead of the letter ה, he. 270 Some translate, were made fools; 271 but this is too forced. I, however, admit that it is of the same import, as if it had been said, that they were deprived of wisdom and courage; but we must adhere to the proper signification of the word. What is added in the second clause is to the same purpose, All the men of might have not found their hands 272 that is to say, they were as incapable of fighting as if their hands had been maimed or cut off. In short, their strength, of which they boasted, was utterly overthrown. The words, they slept their sleep, 273 refer to the same subject; implying that whereas before they were active and resolute, their hearts now failed them, and they were sunk asleep in sloth and listlessness. The meaning, therefore, is, that the enemies of the chosen people were deprived of that heroic courage of which they boasted, and which inspired them with such audacity; and that, in consequence, neither mind, nor heart, nor hands, none either of their mental or bodily faculties, could perform their office. We are thus taught that all the gifts and power which men seem to possess are in the hand of God, so that he can, at any instant of time, deprive them of the wisdom which he has given them, make their hearts effeminate, render their hands unfit for war, and annihilate their whole strength. It is not without reason that both the courage and power of these enemies are magnified; the design of this being, that the faithful might be led, from the contrast, to extol the power and working of God. The same subject is farther confirmed from the statement, that the chariot and the horse were cast into a deep sleep at the rebuke of God 274 This implies, that whatever activity characterised these enemies, it was rendered powerless, simply by the nod of God. Although, therefore, we may be deprived of all created means of help, let us rest contented with the favor of God alone, accounting it all-sufficient, since he has no need of great armies to repel the assaults of the whole world, but is able, by the mere breath of his mouth, to subdue and dissipate all assailants.
7. Thou, even thou, art terrible, and who shall stand before thy face when thou art angry? 8. From heaven thou hast made thy judgment to be heard: the earth was afraid, 275 and was still, 9. When God arose to judgment, 276 to save all the meek 277 of the earth. Selah. 10. Surely the wrath of men shall praise thee, and the remainder of wrath thou wilt restrain. 11. Vow and pay 278 to Jehovah your God: let all those who are round about him bring presents to him who is worthy to be feared, 279 [literally to the terrible one.] 12. He will cut off the spirit of princes: he is terrible to the kings of the earth.
7. Thou, even thou, art terrible. The repetition of the pronoun Thou, is intended to exclude all others from what is here predicated of God, as if it had been said, Whatever power there is in the world, it at once vanishes away, and is reduced to nothing, when He comes forth and manifests himself; and, therefore, He alone is terrible. This is confirmed by the comparison added immediately after, which intimates that, although the wicked are so filled with pride as to be ready to burst with it, yet they are unable to abide the look and presence of God. But as he sometimes keeps silence, and seems merely to look on as an idle spectator, it is expressly asserted, that as soon as he begins to be angry, ruin will be near all the wicked. Although they may then for a time not only stand, but also rise above the clouds by their fury, we are here, notwithstanding, admonished that we ought to wait for the time of wrath. Let us also mark that this terror is denounced against the wicked in such a manner as that it sweetly draws all true believers to God.
8. From heaven thou hast made thy judgment to be heard. By the name of heaven, the Psalmist forcibly intimates that the judgment of God was too manifest to admit of the possibility of its being ascribed either to fortune or to the policy of men. Sometimes God executes his judgments obscurely, so that they seem to proceed out of the earth. For example, when he raises up a godly and courageous prince, the holy and lawful administration which will flourish under the reign of such a prince will be the judgment of God, but it will not be vividly seen to proceed from heaven. As, therefore, the assistance spoken of was of an extraordinary kind, it is distinguished by special commendation. The same remarks apply to the hearing of God’s judgment, of which the Psalmist speaks. It is more for the divine judgments to sound aloud like a peal of thunder, and to stun the ears of all men with their noise, than if they were merely seen with the eyes. There is here, I have no doubt, an allusion to those mighty thunder-claps by which men are stricken with fear. 280 When it is said, the earth was still, it is properly to be referred to the ungodly, who, being panic-struck, yield the victory to God, and dare no longer to rage as they had been accustomed to do. It is only fear which has the effect of bringing them to subjection; and, accordingly, fear is justly represented as the cause of this stillness. It is not meant that they restrain themselves willingly, but that God compels them whether they will or no. The amount is, that whenever God thunders from heaven, the tumults which the insolence of the ungodly stir up, when things are in a state of confusion, come to an end. We are, at the same time, warned of what men may expect to gain by their rebellion; for, whoever despise the paternal voice of God which is loudly uttered, must be destroyed by the bolts of his wrath.
9. When God arose to judgment. The great object which God had in view in executing this judgment is now declared; which was, that he might furnish a proof of his fatherly love towards all his people. He is, therefore, introduced as speaking, not with his mouth, but with his hand, that he may show to all how precious in his sight is the salvation of all who fear and love him. Under the word arise, there is a reference to the inactivity and indolency ascribed by wicked men to God, an opinion which had led them to take so much liberty to themselves. God is then said to ascend into his judgment-seat, when he plainly indicates that he exercises a special care over his Church. The design of the passage is to show that it is as impossible for God to forsake the afflicted and innocent, as it is impossible for him to deny himself. It is to be observed that he is termed Judge, because he affords succor to the poor who are unrighteously oppressed. The appellation of the meek or humble of the earth is applied to the faithful, who, subdued by afflictions, seek not high things, but, with humble groaning, patiently bear the burden of the cross. The best fruit of afflictions is, when thereby we are brought to purge our minds from all arrogance, and to bend them to meekness and modesty. When such is the effect, we may conclude with certainty that we are under the guardianship and protection of God, and that he is ready to extend his aid and favor towards us.
10. Surely the wrath of men shall praise thee. Some understand these words as denoting, that after these enemies shall have submitted to God, they will yield to him the praise of the victory; being constrained to acknowledge that they have been subdued by his mighty hand. Others elicit a more refined sense, That when God stirs up the wicked, and impels their fury, he in this way affords a most illustrious display of his own glory; even as he is said to have stirred up the heart of Pharaoh for this very purpose, (Ex 14:4; Ro 9:17.) Understood in this sense, the text no doubt contains a profitable doctrine, but this being, I am afraid, too refined an explanation, I prefer considering the meaning simply to be, that although at first the rage of the enemies of God and his Church may throw all things into confusion, and, as it were, envelop them in darkness, yet all will at length redound to his praise; for the issue will make it manifest, that, whatever they may contrive and attempt, they cannot in any degree prevail against him. The concluding part of the verse, The remainder of wrath thou wilt restrain, may also be interpreted in two ways. As the word חגר, chagar, signifies to gird, some supply the pronoun thee, and give this sense, All the enemies of the Church are not yet overthrown; but thou, O God! wilt gird thyself to destroy those of them who remain. The other interpretation is, however, the more simple., which is, that although these enemies might not cease to breathe forth their cruelty, yet God would effectually restrain them, and prevent them from succeeding in the accomplishment of their enterprises. 281 Perhaps, also, it would not be unsuitable to explain the verb thus, Thou wilt gather into a bundle, as we say in French, “Tu trousseras,” i.e., Thou wilt truss or pack up. Let us therefore learn, while the wicked would involve in obscurity and doubt the providence of God, to wait patiently until he glorify himself by bringing about a happier state of things, and trample under foot their infatuated presumption, to their shame and confusion. But if new troubles arise from time to time, let us remember that it is his proper office to restrain the remainder of the wrath of the wicked, that they may not proceed to greater lengths. Meanwhile, let us not be surprised if we observe fresh outrages every now and then springing forth; for, even to the end of the world, Satan will always have partisans or agents, whom he will urge forward to molest the children of God.
11. Vow and pay to Jehovah your God. The faithful are now exhorted to the exercise of gratitude. As under the law the custom prevailed among the Jews of vowing sacrifices for singular blessings which God had conferred upon them, by which they solemnly acknowledged that their safety depended solely upon him, and that to him they were entirely indebted for it, they are called anew to engage in this exercise of religion; and by the word pay it is intended to inculcate steadfastness, — to teach them that they should not make merely a sudden and inconsiderate acknowledgement, but that they should also testify at all times that the remembrance of their deliverance was deeply fixed in their hearts. Their most important business, no doubt, was seriously to reflect with themselves that God was the author of their salvation; but still it is to be observed, that the solemn profession of religion, by which every man stimulates not only himself but also others to the performance of their duty, is far from being superfluous. In the second clause, those addressed seem to be the neighboring nations; as if it had been said, that such a special manifestation of the goodness of God was worthy of being celebrated even by foreign and uncircumcised nations. 282 But it appears to me, that the sense most agreeable to the context is, that these words are addressed either to the Levites or to all the posterity of Abraham, both of whom are not improperly said to be round about God, both because the tabernacle was pitched in the midst of the camp so long as the Israelites traveled in the wilderness, and also because the resting-place assigned for the ark was mount Zion, whither the people were accustomed to resort from all the surrounding parts of the country. And the Levites had intrusted to them the charge of the temple, and were appointed to keep watch and ward round about it. The word למורא, lammora, is referred to God by the majority of interpreters, and they translate it terrible. The term fear is, however, sometimes taken in a passive sense for God himself. 283 If it is applied to the Gentiles and to irreligious men, 284 the sense will be, that they shall be tributaries to God; because, being stricken with fear, they shall no longer dare to offer him any resistance. But it is more probable that this word has a reference to God, whom the prophet justly declares to be worthy of being feared, after having given such a remarkable proof of his power.
12. He will cut off 285 the spirit of princes. As the Hebrew word בצר, batsar, occasionally signifies to strengthen, some think it should be so translated in this passage. But as in the two clauses of the verse the same sentiment is repeated, I have no doubt that by the first clause is meant that understanding and wisdom are taken away from princes; and that by the second, God is represented in general as terrible to them, because he will cast them down headlong from their loftiness. As the first thing necessary to conduct an enterprise to a prosperous issue is to possess sound foresight, in which the people of God are often deficient from the great perplexity in which they are involved in the midst of their distresses, while, on the other hand, the ungodly are too sharp-sighted in their crafty schemes; it is here declared that it is in the power of God to deprive of understanding, and to inflict blindness on those who seem to surpass others in acuteness and ingenuity. The majority of princes being enemies to the Church of God, it is expressly affirmed, that He is sufficiently terrible to subdue all the kings of the earth. When it is said, that their spirit is cut off, or taken away from them, it is to be limited to tyrants and robbers whom God infatuates, because he sees that they apply all their ingenuity and counsels to do mischief.
“Et bien equippez de toutes choses requises a la guerre.” — Fr.
The inscription prefixed to the psalm in the Septuagint expressly mentions this as the occasion of its composition, Ωδὴ πρὸς τὸν Ασσύριον; “An ode against the Assyrian.” If in this the version of the LXX. is correct, and if Asaph, to whom the psalm is ascribed, was the person of that name who lived in the time of David, one of his compositions must have been adopted as suitably descriptive of this remarkable deliverance. He may, however, have been a different person of the same name, and was probably one of his descendants, as has been before observed, (page 159,) who lived in the time of Hezekiah. Bishop Patrick and Calmet are of this last opinion. Those who adopt the former suppose that the original reference of the psalm was to the victory obtained by David over the Philistines in the valley of Rephaim.
“N’ont peu trouver leurs mains.” — Fr. “Have not been able to find their hands.”
From ראה, raäh, he saw, or beheld
“This seems to allude to the miraculous destruction of the Assyrian army, as recorded in Isaiah 27:36.” — Warner.
“The Hebrew רשף, [here rendered arrows,] signifies fire, Job 5:7, where ‘sparks that fly upward’ are poetically expressed by בני רשף, ‘the sons of the fire.’ By metaphor it is applies to an ‘arrow’ or ‘dart’ shot out of a bow, and, by the swiftness of the motion, supposed to be inflamed. See So 8:6, where of love it is said, (not the coals, but) ‘the arrows thereof are arrows of fire,’ it shoots, and wounds, and burns a man’s heart, inflames it vehemently by wounding it. The poetical expression will best be preserved by retaining some trace of the primary sense in the rendering of it — ‘fires or lightnings of the bow,’ i e., those hostile weapons which are most furious and formidable, as fire shot out from a bow.” — Hammond Parkhurst renders “glittering flashing arrows,” or rather, “fiery, or fire-bearing arrows;” such as, it is certain, were used in after times in sieges and in battles; the βελη πεπυρωμενα of the Greeks, to which Paul alludes in Eph 6:16, and the phalarica of the Romans, which Servius (on Virgil, Æn. lib. 9, 5, 705) describes as a dart or javelin with a spherical leaden head, to which combustible matter was attached, which being set on fire, the weapon was darted against the enemy; and when thrown by a powerful hand, it killed those whom it hit, and set fire to buildings. Walford has, “fiery arrows.” “The arrows,” says he, “are described as fiery, to denote either the rapidity of their motion, or that they were tinged with some poisonous drugs to render them more deadly.”
The verb is in the praet. hithpahel; and it has א, aleph, instead of ה, he, according to the Chaldaic language, which changes ה, the Hebrew characteristic of hiphil and hithpahel into א
As the verb signifies, has plundered, spoiled; and as it is here in the praet. hithpahel, which generally denotes reciprocal action, that is, acting on one’s self, it has been here rendered by some, despoiled themselves of mind, were mad, furious. Hammond reads, “The stout-hearted have despoiled or disarmed themselves.” The Chaldee paraphrase is, “They have cast away their weapons.”
“ידיהם לא מצאו, may be rendered have not found their hands, i e., have not been able to use them for resistance, for the offending others, or even for their own defense.” — Hammond The Chaldee paraphrase is, “They could not take their weapons in their hands,” i e., they could not use their hands to manage their weapons. In the Septuagint, the reading is, εὕρον οὐδὲν ταῖς χερσιν αὐτῶν; “they found nothing with their hands,” i e., they were able to do nothing with them: the vast army of Assyrians, the most warlike and victorious then in the world, achieved nothing, but “returned with shame to face to their own land,” (2Ch 32:21.)
“They slept their sleep.” “They slept, but never waked again.” — Hammond. There may be here a direct allusion to the catastrophe which befell the Assyrian army during the night, when, as they were fast asleep in their tents, a hundred and eighty-five thousand of them were at once slain, Isa 37:36.
The chariot and horse may be put poetically for charioteers and horsemen. Chariots formed a most important part of the array in the battles of the ancients. See Jud 4:3. Instead of “both the chariot and the horse,” Horsley reads, “both the rider and the horse.” “It is not improbable,” says he, “that the pestilence in Sennacherib’s army might seize the horses as well as the men, although the death of the beasts is not mentioned by the sacred historian.”
“Dont la terre a eu frayeur.” — Fr. “With which the earth was afraid.”
“Pour faire jugement.” — Fr. “To execute judgment.”
“Tous les humbles.” — Fr. “All the humble.”
“Rendez vos voeus.” — Fr. “Pay your vows.”
“Ou, a cause de la frayeur.” — Fr. marg. “Or, on account of fear.”
When an angel of the Lord descended to perform some mighty work with which he had been commissioned, thunders and earthquakes frequently accompanied the execution of his commission; and it is highly probable that both these phenomena accompanied such a stupendous display of power, as that which was afforded by the slaughter of one hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the army of Sennacherib. By God’s judgment being heard, may accordingly be understood the thunder which was heard; and what follows, “The earth was afraid,” may signify the earthquake which then took place.
Hammond’s statement of these two interpretations is clear and full. It is as follows: — “What תחגור [which Calvin renders, thou wilt restrain] signifies here, is not agreed among the interpreters, the word signifying 1. to gird, and, 2. to restrain In the notion of restraining, it will have a very commodious sense, applied to Sennacherib, to whom this psalm belongs. For, as by the slaughter of the one hundred and eighty-five thousand in his army he was forced to depart, and dwell at Nineveh, 2Ki 19:36; so, after his return thither, there are some remainders of his wrath on the Jews that dwelt there. We may see it, Tob 1:18, ‘If the king Sennacherib had slain any, when he was come and fled from Judea, I buried them privily, (for in his wrath he killed many,’) etc. This was the gleanings of his wrath, and this was ‘restrained’ by God; for he soon falls by the hands of his sons, Adrammelech and Sharezer, ‘as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god,’ 2Ki 19:37. And to this sense Kimchi interprets it, ‘Thou shalt so repress the malice of our enemies, that the other nations shall not dare to fight against us;’ so likewise Aben Ezra. And thus it must be, if ‘the remainder of wrath’ be ‘man’s wrath,’ as the former part of the verse inclines it, ‘Surely the wrath of man,’ etc. But חגר, in the primary notion, signifies girding or putting on, arraying oneself Girding, we know, signifies putting on, and is applied to garments, ornaments, arms: חגור, ‘Gird thy sword upon thy thigh,’ Ps 45:3, and frequently elsewhere; and so ‘girding with gladness,’ is putting on festival ornaments. And in like manner here, in a poetical phrase, ‘Thou shalt gird on the remainder of wrath,’ parallel to ‘putting on the garments of vengeance for clothing,’ Isa 59:17, will signify God’s adorning and setting out himself by the exercise of his vengeance, vulgarly expressed by his wrath, and the word חמת, wrath, most fitly used with reference on חמת, the wrath of man, in the beginning of the verse. Man’s wrath is the violence, and rage, and blasphemy of the oppressor, upon the meek or poor man foregoing. This begins, goes foremost, in provoking God; and then שארית, the remnant, or second part of wrath, is still behind for God; and with that he girds himself, i e., sets himself out illustriously and dreadfully, as with an ornament, and as with an hostile preparation in the eyes of men. And so in this sense also it is agreeable to the context... In either sense, the parts of this verse are perfectly answerable the one to the other. To this latter rendering of תחגור, the Chaldee inclines us, paraphrasing it by, ‘Thou hast girded on, or prepared, or made ready, the remainder of fury, (meaning by God’s fury,) for the destroying of the nations.’”
This is Kimchi’s interpretation: He understands by “those round about God,” the nations near the land of Israel, and so near God.
In this sense it is employed in Ge 31:53, “And Jacob sware by the Fear of his father Isaac.”
If it is thus applied, the reading will be, “Let all those who are round about him bring presents on account of fear.”
The word employed by Calvin is “Vindemiabit,” which expresses the precise idea of the original verb, יבצור, yebtstor It is from בצר, he cut off, brake off, referring properly to grapes and other fruits. The reading of the LXX. is, “takes away.”