Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 11: Psalms, Part IV, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
The description which we have of the kingdom of God in this psalm, does not apply to the state of it under the Law. We may infer, accordingly, that it contains a prediction of that kingdom of Christ, which was erected upon the introduction of the Gospel. The Psalmist, while he commends it to us by insisting upon its greatness and glory, so well calculated to compel the reverential fear of men, gives an amiable representation of it, by informing us that it has been erected for the salvation of mankind sinners.
1. Jehovah reigns: let the earth rejoice, let the great islands 95 be glad. 2. Clouds and darkness are round about him; righteousness and judgment are the habitation 96 of his throne. 3. A fire shall go before his face, and shall burn up his enemies round about. 4. His lightnings enlightened the world; the earth shall see, and tremble. 5. The hills flow down like wax at the presence of Jehovah, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
1 Jehovah reigns His inviting men to rejoice, is a proof that the reign of God is inseparably connected with the salvation and best happiness of mankind. And, the joy he speaks of being common to the whole world and to the regions beyond the seas, it is evident that he predicts the enlargement of God’s kingdom, which had been confined within the narrow boundaries of Judea, to a far wider extent. The Psalmist, in setting forth the various particulars of the Divine glory in the four verses which follow, would seek to impress all men with a reverential fear of him. Thus he gives us a representation of the formidable majesty attaching to God, that he may dash and humble vain confidence and carnal pride. A cloudy sky overawes us more than a clear one, as the darkness produces a peculiar effect upon the senses. The Psalmist makes use of this symbol, no doubt, to impress the world with the greater reverence of God. Others refine more upon the words, and think that clouds are said to be round about God, to check human rashness and presumption, and restrain that excessive curiosity which would pry more than is fit into the mysteries of Godhead. This is an interpretation of the words which makes them convey a very useful lesson; but I am against all refined renderings, and think that the Psalmist intended in associating darkness with God, to impress the hearts of men with a fear of him in general. 97 The same meaning is brought out in the remaining context, when fire is said to go before him, and burn up his enemies, his lightnings to shake the earth, and the mountains to flow down. Should any object that this does not agree with what was said of the joy which his kingdom diffuses, I might answer, first, that although God is ready on his part to diffuse blessedness wherever he reigns, all are not capable of appreciating it. Besides, as I have already hinted, the truth is one of use to believers, humbling the pride of the flesh, and deepening their adoration of God. God’s throne is represented as founded in justice and judgment, to denote the benefit which we derive from it. The greatest misery which can be conceived of, is that of living without righteousness and judgment, and the Psalmist mentions it as matter of praise exclusively due to God, that when he reigns, righteousness revives in the world. He as evidently denies that we can have any righteousness, till God subjects us to the yoke of his word, by the gentle but powerful influences of his Spirit. A great proportion of men obstinately resist and reject the government of God. Hence the Psalmist was forced to exhibit God in his severer aspect, to teach the wicked that their perverse opposition will not pass unpunished. When God draws near to men in mercy, and they fail to welcome him with becoming reverence and respect, this implies impiety of a very aggravated description; on which account it is that the language of denunciation suits with the kingdom of Christ. The Psalmist intimates that those who should despise God in the person of his only-begotten Son, will feel in due time and certainly the awful weight of his majesty. So much is implied in the expression used — The earth Shall See. For the wicked, when they find that their attempts are vain in fighting against God, resort to subterfuge and concealment. The Psalmist declares that they would not succeed by any such vain artifice in hiding themselves from God.
6. The heavens have declared his righteousness, and all the people have seen his glory. 7. Confounded be all those who serve graven images, who glory in their inventions; 98 let all the gods worship before him. 8. Zion heard, and was glad; and the daughters of Judah 99 rejoiced because of thy judgments, O Jehovah!
6 The heavens have declared his righteousness Here he states that there would be such an illustrious display of the righteousness of God, that the heavens themselves would herald it. The meaning is not the same as in the beginning of the nineteenth psalm, “The heavens declare the glory of God,” etc. In that psalm David means no more than that the wisdom and power of God are as conspicuous in the fabric of the heavens, as if God should assert them with an audible voice. The meaning of the passage before us is, that the spiritual righteousness of God should be so signally manifested under the reign of Christ as to fill both heaven and earth. There is much force in this personification, in which the heavens, as if even they were penetrated with a sense of the righteousness of God, are represented as speaking of it. It is equally probable, however, that the heavens signify here the angels, who are contained in heaven, by the figure of metonomy or synecdoche, while, in the corresponding clause, instead of the earth being mentioned, he speaks of the peoples who dwell upon it. The angels may very properly be said to announce and celebrate the Divine glory.
7 Confounded be all those who serve graven images. The Psalmist draws a broad distinction here, as in the psalm next to this, between the true God and the false gods which men form for themselves. This he does that the praise which he had ascribed might not be applied to any but the true God. Men are all ready to admit that they ought to celebrate the praises of God, but, naturally prone as they are to superstition, few indeed will be bound down to worship God in the manner which is right. No sooner have they to do with God than they deviate into the most baseless delusions. Each fashions a god for himself, and all choose what suits them best in the medley of inventions. This is the reason why the sacred writers, under the apprehension that men may turn to false gods, are careful in giving exhortations to the worship of God, to state at the same time who the true God is. The order observed by the Psalmist suggests the remark, that corrupt superstitions will never be removed until the true religion obtains. Prevented from coming to the true God by the slowness of their spiritual apprehension, men cannot fail to wander in vanities of their own; and it is the knowledge of the true God which dispels these, as the sun disperses the darkness. All have naturally a something of religion born with them, 100 but owing to the blindness and stupidity, as well as the weakness of our minds, the apprehension which we conceive of God is immediately depraved. Religion is thus the beginning of all superstitions, not in its own nature, but through the darkness which has settled down upon the minds of men, and which prevents them from distinguishing between idols and the true God. The truth of God is effectual when revealed in dispelling and dissipating superstitions. Does the sun absorb the vapors which intervene in the air, and shall not the presence of God himself be effectual much more? We need not wonder then that the Psalmist, in predicting the Kingdom of God, triumphs over the ungodly nations, which boasted in graven images, as when Isaiah, speaking of the rise of the Gospel, adds,
“Then all the idols of Egypt shall fall,” (Isa 19:1)
Since the knowledge of God has been hid from the view of men, we are taught also that there is no reason to be surprised at the host of superstitions which have overspread the world. We have an exemplification of the same truth in our own day. The knowledge of the true doctrine is extinguished amongst the Turks, the Jews, and Papists, and, as a necessary consequence, they lie immersed in error; for they cannot possibly return to a sound mind, or repent of their errors, when they are ignorant of the true God. When the Psalmist speaks of their being confounded, he means that the time was come when those who were given to idolatry should repent, and return to the worship of the true God. Not that all without exception would be brought to genuine repentance, — for experience has taught us in these our own times how atheistical men 101 will cast off superstition, and yet assume the most shameless effrontery, but that this is one of those consequences which the knowledge of God should effect, the turning of men from their errors unto God. Some there are who obstinately resist God, of which we have many examples in the Papacy; but we have every reason to believe that they are secretly prostrated by that which they affect to despise, and confounded notwithstanding their opposition. What the Psalmist says a little after, Let all the gods 102 worship before him, properly applies to the angels, in whom there shines forth some small portion of divinity, yet it may, though less appropriately, be extended to fictitious gods; as if he had said, Whatever is accounted or held as a god must quit its place and renounce its claims, that God alone may be exalted. Hence it may be gathered that the true definition of piety is, when the true God is perfectly served, and when he alone is so exalted, that no creature obscures his divinity; and, accordingly, if we would not have true piety entirely destroyed amongst us, we must hold by this principle, That no creature whatever be exalted by us beyond measure,
8 Zion heard, and was glad In the former part of the psalm he had spoken of that joy which should be common to all the world. Now he makes special mention of God’s chosen nation; and this partly, because they were to enjoy the first-fruits of this joy, and partly, because he would remove all occasion for rivalry or envy. Accordingly, having said that the Gentile nations should be brought to equal privileges with the posterity of Abraham, he adds, that the Jews would not suffer any diminution of honor by this co-partnership of privilege, but might rather reasonably rejoice in being chosen of God to be the fountain out of which the world was to be watered and refreshed. Those of whom the Psalmist speaks were the true children of Abraham and them only. They had a double reason for rejoicing, when God extended his government and glory from the rising to the setting sun; for, while he exhibited to them in Christ the complete fulfillment of that redemption which was promised, they, at the same time, saw the glory of God diffused from the narrow limits of Judea to all parts of the world. When the nations were blessed in the seed of Abraham, agreeably to the prediction which had gone before, this was no inconsiderable confirmation of their faith, as also, when they saw a religion which had been hated and despised universally embraced. But why, it may be asked, does he speak of those things being heard, rather than seen? Two reasons may be given for this. First, he would have God’s believing people anticipate the blessing by hope, ere the consummation of it arrived; and, again, the language intimates, that the glory of the Gospel would be spread to such distant quarters, that the Jews would rather hear of it by report, than witness it with their own eyes.
9. For thou, Jehovah, art high above all the earth: thou art exalted far above all gods. 10. Ye that love Jehovah, hate evil: he preserveth the souls of his meek ones; he will deliver them out of the hand of the wicked. 11. Light has been sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart. 12. Rejoice in Jehovah, ye righteous, and celebrate the memory of his holiness.
9 For thou, Jehovah, art high above all the earth Having already, in another place, explained these words, I shall not say more at present upon them. Only it is to be noticed, that there is a comparison drawn between God and the angels, and whatever has any claim to eminence. The Psalmist limits all other excellency in such a manner, as to leave no room for questioning that all majesty is comprehended in God only. This was the case more eminently when God manifested himself in his only-begotten Son, who is the express image of himself. Before that period his greatness was less apparent, because he was less known.
10 Ye that love Jehovah, hate evil Those that fear God are here enjoined to practice righteousness, as Paul says,
“Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity,”
He shows from the very nature of God, that we cannot be judged and acknowledged to be his servants unless we depart from sin, and practice holiness. God is in himself the fountain of righteousness, and he must necessarily hate all iniquity, unless we could suppose that he should deny himself; and we have fellowship with him only on the terms of separation from unrighteousness. As the persecution of the wicked is apt to provoke us to seek revenge, and unwarrantable methods of escape, the Psalmist guards us against this temptation, by asserting that God is the keeper and protector of his people. If persuaded of being under the Divine guardianship, we will not strive with the wicked, nor retaliate injury upon those who have wronged us, but commit our safety to him who will faithfully defend it. This gracious act of condescension, by which God takes us under his care, should serve as a check to any impatience we might feel in abstaining from what is evil, 103 and preserving the course of integrity under provocation.
11. Light has been sown for the righteous He confirms the truth just advanced, and anticipates an objection which might be brought against it. We have seen that the Lord’s people are often treated with the utmost cruelty and injustice, and would seem to be abandoned to the fury of their enemies. The Psalmist reminds us for our encouragement that God, even when he does not immediately deliver his children, upholds them by his secret power. 104 In the first clause of the verse there is a double metaphor. By light is meant joy, or a prosperous issue, (according to a phraseology which is common in Scripture,) as darkness denotes adversity. The latter metaphor of sowing is rather more difficult to understand. 105 Some think that gladness is sown for the just, as seed which, when cast into the ground, dies or lies buried in the earth a considerable time before it germinates. This idea may be a good one; but, perhaps, the simplest meaning of the words is the following, that though the righteous may be almost banished out of the world, and unable to venture themselves forth in public, and hidden from view, God will spread abroad their joy like seed, or bring forth to notice the light of their joy which had been shut up. The second clause of the verse is an exegesis of the first — light being interpreted to mean joy, and the righteous such as are upright in heart This definition of righteousness is worthy of notice, That it does not consist in a mere outward appearance, but comprehends integrity of heart, more being required to constitute us righteous in God’s sight than that we simply keep our tongue, hands, or feet, from wickedness. In the concluding verse he exhorts the Lord’s people to gratitude, that looking upon God as their Redeemer, they should lead a life corresponding to the mercy they have received, and rest contented under all the evils they encounter, with the consciousness that they enjoy his protection.
“Ou, que beaucoup d’isles.” — Fr marg “Or, let the many isles.” Horsley and some other critics object to translating the original word, איים, iyim, by isles He reads, “Let the various settlements of man rejoice:” on which he observes, “I cannot more exactly render the force of the Hebrew איים, than by this periphrasis. The English language hath no single word to convey the same idea; and the word ‘isles’ or ‘islands,’ hath hardly any relation to it.” Fry’s note here is as follows: — “The Hebrew terms rendered, ‘the multitude of the isles,’ ‘the various settlements of men,’ ‘the extended shores,’ seem in a special manner to designate these western parts of the world, which were known as distant coasts visited by the ships of Tyre. All Europe might originally fall under this denomination, with some parts of the sea coasts of Africa, and even of Asia; nor can there be any doubt, that all subsequent discoveries by sea, once uninhabited, but now colonized, and settled from the old countries, would be designated by this term. Some nations of this description are called upon, in particular, to rejoice in the Savior’s appearing.”
The word מכון, mechon, here rendered “habitation,” is from כון, kun, he prepared, fitted, confirmed “It is used,” says Hammond, “for a place, seat, but especially a basis, whereon anything is set: from whence the LXX. had their μεχωςὼθ, (the very Hebrew מכונות) for basis, 1Ki 7:27. The Chaldee here retains the original מכון, but the LXX., from the notion of the verb for fitting, read κατόρθωσις, ‘the setting right of his throne;’ the Syriac, by way of paraphrase, ‘by equity and judgment thy throne is confirmed:’ all which concur to the notion of basis or foundation, which is the thing that gives the rectitude first, and then the stability, to the chair or throne that is set on it. And so that is unquestionably the right, intelligible rendering of the phrase, ‘Righteousness and judgment are the (not habitation but) basis of his throne,’ i e., his sentences, decrees, judicatures, are all built upon righteousness and judgment, as a throne is built and established on a foundation.”
“Que le Prophete a voulu par ce regard obscur de Dieu, toucher au vif les coeurs des hommes, afin qu’ils tremblent.” — Fr.
“Ou, idoles.” Fr marg “Or, idols.” The original word here is אלילים elilim See note 2, page 50.
“Judah’s daughters, the inferior towns and villages of Judea, so called with reference to the metropolis, or mother city. This is a very elegant kind of personification, by which the subject, adjunct, accident, effect, or the like, of any thing or place is called the son, or, as in this instance, the daughter of that thing or place. Hence the Hebrew poets often introduce, as it were, on the stage, nations, countries, or kingdoms, clothed in the dress of women, and performing all the functions suited to such a character. The practice is familiar to our minds; but probably it is so rendered by our habitual acquaintance with the Hebrew idiom, to which it appears to owe its origin.” — Mant on Psalms 48:11.
“Les hommes ont naturellement quelque religion,” etc. — Fr.
“Lucianici homines.” — Lat. “Disciples de Lucian et Atheistes.” — Fr.
With the exception of the Chaldee, which, instead of “gods,” has “people,” all the ancient versions translate angels — all his angels, as if the Hebrew reading had originally been כל מלאכיו, and not as in our present copies כל אלהים. It has indeed been questioned whether אלהים, elohim, can be correctly translated angels The most of modern lexicographers and critics reject this sense of the word. “But usage, after all,” says Moses Stuart, “pleads in favor of it. The Septuagint render אל (God) by ἄγγελος, in Job 20:15; and אלהים by ἄγγελοι, in Ps. 8:6, Ps. 96:7, Ps. 137:1. Paul follows them by quoting Ps 8:6 in Heb 2:7; and also by quoting Ps 97:7 in Heb 1:6; i e., supposing that he does actually quote it. Is not this sufficient evidence that there was a usus loquendi among the Jews, which applied the word אלהים occasionally to designate angels? It is admitted that kings and magistrates are called elohim, because of their rank or dignity. Is there any thing improbable in the supposition that angels may be also called אלהים, who at present are elevated above men, Heb 2:7?”
Stuart, in the above remarks, speaks as if it were doubtful whether Paul in Heb 1:6, “And again, when he bringeth the first-begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him,” quotes from the 7th verse of the 97th Psalm. Commentators are divided in opinion on this point, some maintaining that the quotation is from Psalm 97, and others that it is from De 32:43, in the Septuagint version, where the very words are found which appear in Heb 1:6, although only in that version; the Hebrew and all the ancient versions being without them. One difficulty attending the supposition of his quoting from De 32:43 is, that the subject connected with this command to the angels (if we admit the clause in the Septuagint to be a part of the sacred text) has no relation to the Messiah. The context celebrates the victory over the enemies of Israel, which God will achieve. After saying that ‘his arms should be drunk with blood, and that his sword should devour flesh with the blood of the slain and of captives, from the time when he begins to take vengeance on the enemy,’ the Septuagint (not the Hebrew) immediately inserts, εὐφράνθητε οὐρανοὶ ἅμα αὐτῷ καὶ προκυνησάτωσαν αὐτῷ πάντες ἄγγελοι θεοῦ. This in the place where it stands must mean, “Let the inhabitants of the heavenly world rejoice in the victory of God over the enemies of his people, and let them pay their adoration to him.” But the Messiah does not seem to be at all alluded to any where in the context, much less described as being introduced into the world It is not therefore very likely that this is the passage quoted, unless we suppose that Paul borrowed the words merely as fitted to express the idea which he intended to convey, without any reference to their original meaning. The probability is in favor of a quotation from the text before us; which in the Septuagint runs thus: προσκυνήσατε αὐτῷ πάντες ἄγγελοι αὐτοῦ. Paul’s words are, και προσκυνησάτώσαν αὐτῷ παντες ἄγγελοι Θεοῦ. Here the variation from the Septuagint is so very inconsiderable, making no change upon the sense of the passage, that the discrepancy, especially when it is considered that very few of the quotations from the Old Testament in the New agree verbatim either with the Hebrew or Septuagint, is no argument against the supposition of the Apostle’s quoting this text from that version which was in general use among the Jews. And this psalm admits of an easy application to the coming and kingdom of the Messiah, whose advent was to destroy idolatry, and be the source of rejoicing and happiness to all the righteous, which the passage in Deuteronomy referred to does not. — See Stuart’s Commentary on Heb 1:6, and Excursus 6.
“De nous tenir en bride, de peur qu’il ne nous soit fascheux ou grief de nous abstenir de malice,” etc. — Fr.
“Quamvis non statim suos liberet Deus, arcana tamen virtute tucri eorum salutem.” — Lat.
Walford objects to the version light is sown, on the ground that it presents an incongruous combination of figures; and he translates, “light is diffused.” “Who can say,” he remarks, “what is meant by the sowing of light? The diffusion or expansion of light is intelligible, and means that though good men may be in darkness or adversity, light and prosperity will burst through the cloud.” The Septuagint, Vulgate, Arabic, and Æthiopic versions translate, “light is risen for the righteous,” probably reading זרח, zarach, which De Rossi found in one manuscript, instead of זרע, zara Houbigant and others adopt this reading, conceiving it to be more agreeable to the common idea of light. But Muis vindicates the text from Ps 126:5; and Archbishop Secker thinks “sown” a very proper expression. In support of the same rendering, Merrick, in his Annotations, quotes several passages from the classic Greek authors, in which both light and gladness are said to be sown.