Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 12: Psalms, Part V, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
As the faithful being mingled in this world with the ungodly seem to be exposed to all the ills of life in the same manner as other people, the Prophet, comparing them to Jerusalem, shows that they are defended by an invincible bulwark. And if God at any time suffer them to be plagued by the malice of the wicked, he exhorts them to be of good hope. He however at the same time distinguishes between true and false Israelites, that hypocrites may not apply to themselves what is here said concerning the safety of the righteous.
A Song of Degrees.
1. They who confide in Jehovah “are” as mount Zion, “which” shall not be removed, “but” shall abide for ever. 81 2. As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so Jehovah round about his people, henceforth and for ever.
1. They who confide in Jehovah are as mount Zion. The present Psalm differs from the preceding in this — that while in the other it was said that the Church had been preserved by the power of God, without any human means, the Holy Spirit, in the one before us, teaches that in the time to come she shall always continue in perfect safety, because she is defended by the invincible power of God. When the Church is emblematically described by the situation of the city of Jerusalem, the design of the Prophet is to encourage each of the faithful to believe, that the safety promised in common to all the chosen people belongs to him. But in exhibiting to the eyes a visible image of the Church, he accommodates himself to the rudeness of those who, detained by the dulness of the flesh, still continue settled down in the earth. It ought then, in the first place, to be noticed, that to those who may not sufficiently apprehend by faith the secret protection of God, the mountains which environ Jerusalem are exhibited as a mirror, in which they may see, beyond all doubt, that the Church is as well defended from all perils, as if it were surrounded on all sides with like walls and bulwarks. Moreover, it is profitable to know what I have just now touched upon — that whenever God speaks to all his people in a body, he addresses himself also to each of them in particular. As not a few of the promises are extended generally to the whole body of the Church, so many contemplate them as at a distance, as far removed from them, and will not presume to appropriate them to themselves. The rule here prescribed must therefore be observed, which is, that each apply to himself whatever God promises to his Church in common. Nor does the Psalmist without cause make Jerusalem a representation of the Church, for the sanctuary of God and the ark of the covenant were there.
With respect to the explanation of the words, it is to be observed that the last two verbs of the first verse may be understood in two ways. They may both be governed by Jerusalem as the nominative. But some understand the first verb, לא ימוט al, lo yimmot, shall not be removed, only as spoken of Jerusalem and the latter verb, ישב, yesheb, shall abide, as referring to the faithful, so that according to this view there is a change of number, which is very common among the Hebrews — the singular number, ישב, yesheb, being used instead of the plural, ישבו, yeshbu. And certainly the sentence might not improperly be translated thus: They who trust in Jehovah, as mount Zion shall not be removed, shall dwell for ever, or continue steadfast, for the verb translated to abide is taken in this sense. We now perceive the meaning of the Prophet, which is, that although the world is subject to so many and so sudden changes as almost to put on a new face every moment, and although the faithful are mingled with and placed in the same external condition as others, yet their safety continues steadfast under the invincible protection of God. Not that they are permitted to dwell undisturbed and at ease; but because their safety being under the guardianship of God is assaulted in vain; at least they can never altogether fall, although they may stumble. But let us notice that the word הבמחים, habbtechim, which signifies, those who hope or wait for, conveys an implicit injunction to steadfastness of faith. Whoever, then, desires to be sustained by the hand of God, let him constantly lean upon it; and whoever would be defended by it, let him patiently repose himself under it. When God suffers us to be often carried hither and thither, or driven about like chaff by the wind, this comes to pass through our own inconstancy — because we prefer fluttering in the air to fixing our minds on the rock of his help. The similitude employed in the second verse is abundantly plain, teaching us, that as the continuous chain of mountains round about Jerusalem exhibits the appearance of walls, so God encompasses the faithful by his power, to ward off from them all harm. 82 Similar forms of expression are frequently to be met with in the Scriptures’ God often promises to be a wall and a fore-wall to his people. But David, or whoever was the author of the psalm, proceeds still farther, showing under the figure of mountains the secret protection with which God defends his own people, to the end that the ignorant and feeble-minded who are still held down to the earth by their own dulness of understanding, aided by the sight of the mountains, may raise their minds upwards to the conception and contemplation of heavenly things.
3. For the scepter 83 of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the just, lest the just should put faith their hands to iniquity. 4. Do good, O Jehovah to the good, and to those who are upright in their hearts. 5. But those who turn aside into their crooked paths, 84 Jehovah will make them walk with the workers of iniquity. But there shall be peace upon Israel.
3. For the scepter of the wicked shall not rest upon the lot of the just. This is, as it were, a correction of the preceding sentence. The Psalmist had said that the hand of God was extended on all sides to defend his Church. But as we are disposed to draw the divine promises to our own advantage, in the way of interpreting them as securing our exemption from all trouble, we are here warned that the guardianship of God does not secure us from being sometimes exercised with the cross and afflictions, and that therefore the faithful ought not to promise themselves a delicate and easy life in this world, it being enough for them not to. be abandoned of God when they stand in need of his help. Their heavenly Father, it is true, loves them most tenderly, but he will have them awakened by the cross, lest they should give themselves too much to the pleasures of the flesh. If, therefore, we embrace this doctrine, although we may happen to be oppressed by the tyranny of the wicked, we will wait patiently till God either break their scepter, or shake it out of their hands. It is a sore temptation, I admit, to see the wicked exercising cruelty in the heritage of the Lord, and the faithful lying extended beneath their feet; but as God does not without just reason thus humble his people, they should comfort themselves from the consideration suggested in the text.
The reason is added why God will not suffer the wicked always to triumph over the righteous — namely, lest the just, overcome by temptation, abandon themselves wholly to sinning, a reason which ought to be carefully marked. Hence we gather that God, from his willingness to bear with our weakness, moderates our adversities. Although, then, we may not possess in ourselves a sufficient amount of fortitude and constancy to enable us to persevere in our duty for a single moment, yet let this sentiment be present to our minds, That God will take care that, broken as we may be by afflictions, we shall not forsake his service. Were he even to afflict us without intermission during the whole course of our life, the cross is doubtless always profitable to us; for we see how indomitable is the rebellion of our flesh, and with what vehement impetuosity it is continually boiling up; yea, rather how it ceases not to kick amidst the very afflictions by which it ought to be reduced to obedience. So much the more necessary then is this lesson of instruction — that the Lord seasonably sets limits to our temptations, because he knows that we are too feeble to withstand them. Nor does the Prophet merely say, that the weak are in danger of failing, but that even the just, who serve God in truth and from the heart, and who are devoted to the cultivation of a holy life, are in danger of sinking under the load. However vigorous, then, the fear of God may be in our hearts, let us remember that we are not endowed with adequate strength for enduring to the end, unless the Lord have a regard to our infirmity. If the Holy Spirit makes this declaration concerning the best champions, what will be the case as to tyroes, who are as yet but imperfectly trained for the combat? It is also proper to mark the form of speech employed — lest they stretch forth their hands; by which it is intimated that the assaults of temptations are so violent, that the hands of the just, which were before, as we may say, bound, and whose motions were also framed and regulated according to the will of God, being now, as it were, let loose, apply themselves to the commission of sin without restraint.
4. Do good, O Jehovah to the good. The Prophet has already promised to all the faithful the seasonable help of God; but still he has recourse to prayer, and that not without cause; for although faith may sustain us, yet, as our carnal sense and reason are wavering, we ought to mingle prayers for our confirmation. Let us then follow this rule of the Prophet, who, having exhorted all the faithful to cherish confidence, teaches them at the same time, that instead of sitting in listless inactivity, they should betake themselves to God, earnestly beseeching him by prayer, for what he has bidden them hope for by his word. And assuredly the importance of using this remedy is apparent from the consideration, that amidst the darkness of afflictions, the aid of God is not discerned, but that he rather seems to make no difference between the righteous and the wicked. Nor does the Psalmist simply pray that God would deal graciously with the good, he also defines the goodness by which they are characterized, as what proceeds from sincere affection of heart. It would not be enough for the children of God to abstain from all wrong-doing, were they not distinguished by corresponding integrity of heart, or rather did it not govern their whole life.
5. But those who turn aside into their crooked paths, etc. As the participle המטים, hammattim, is in the conjugation Hiphil, it should, according to the rules of grammar, be rather translated in an active sense — those who cause to turn aside; but it being no uncommon thing for verbs in that conjugation to be taken in a neuter sense, the, version which I have followed is probably the correct one. Still, as the active signification is not less appropriate, I would leave the reader freely to exercise his own judgment. The meaning is, that God does not always connive at the wickedness of those who, while boasting of a hollow and counterfeit profession, wander hither and thither according to their own lust, or even corrupt the simple, and draw them into the same excess of sinning with themselves. I have no doubt that the Psalmist here speaks of hypocrites, who are so hardened by temporary impunity, as to claim to. themselves a place among the holiest of men, because God exercises forbearance towards them. Not only do we see the good mingled with the bad in the world, but we also behold on the barn-floor of the Lord the wheat lying hidden under the chaff and refuse. In this dubious and confused state of matters, the bad are elated with pride, as if they were among the best of God’s servants. We ought therefore to pray that God would drag them into the light, and, with the workers of iniquity, thrust them down into the punishment which they have deserved. The consequence is that peace, which the Prophet desires may be the privilege of Israel. He does not speak generally of all the race of Abraham, according to the. flesh; he rather wishes that the Church of God may be purged of hypocrites, who occupy a place in her, until God lift up his hand to judgment. On this account I have said, that the peace of the Church springs from this — that; God, while executing his just vengeance upon reigned and counterfeit Israelites, who rend and tear in pieces her bowels, gathers together the upright in heart, and openly shows by his blessing the fatherly love which he bears towards them.
The supplementary words in this verse marked by inverted commas are taken from the French version.
From the mountains or hills which surrounded Jerusalem, the Prophet Ezekiel (Eze 11:3) represents it under the image of a “cauldron.”
שבט If this word be translated rod, then we understand the Psalmist to speak of the assaults of the wicked upon the righteous; but as the lot of the righteous evidently denotes their estates, possessions, etc., שבט consequently seems employed as the emblem of dominion, i.e. scepter. This notion of שבט comports better with that of גורל[the word for the lot of]; and so the sense of the whole expression is, that the wicked shall not exercise dominion permanently over the righteous; the scepter of the wicked shall not rest,” etc. — Phillips.
“Ou, se fourvoyent en leurs chemins obliques, ou, font fourvoyer.” — Fr. marg. “Or, go astray in their crooked paths, or cause to go astray.”