Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 12: Psalms, Part V, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
This Psalm is akin to the preceding, and, so to speak, a kind of appendage to it; for it declares that the divine blessing, to the diffusion of which among the whole human race Solomon testified, is to be seen most conspicuously in the ease of God’s true and sincere servants.
A Song of Degrees.
1. Blessed is the man who feareth Jehovah, and walketh in his ways. 2. For when thou shalt eat the labor of thy hands, thou shalt be blessed, and it shall be well with thee. 3. Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine on the sides of thy house, and thy children as olive plants around thy table. 105
1 Blessed is the man who feareth Jehovah. In the preceding Psalm it was stated that prosperity in all human affairs, and in the whole course of our life, is to be hoped for exclusively from the grace of God; and now the Prophet admonishes us that those who desire to be partakers of the blessing of God must with sincerity of heart devote themselves wholly to him; for he will never disappoint those who serve him. The first verse contains a summary of the subject-matter of the Psalm; the remaining portion being added only by way of exposition. The maxim “that those are blessed who fear God, especially in the present life,” is so much with variance with the common opinion of men, that very few will give it their assent. Everywhere are to be found fluttering about many Epicureans, similar to Dionysius, who, having once had a favorable wind upon the sea and a prosperous voyage, after having plundered a temple, 106 boasted that the gods favored church robbers. Also the weak are troubled and shaken by the prosperity of evil men, and they next faint under the load of their own miseries. The despisers of God may not indeed enjoy prosperity, and the condition of good men may be tolerable, but still the greater part of men are blind in considering the providence of God, or seem not in any degree to perceive it. The adage, “That it is best not to be born at all, or to die as soon as possible,” has certainly been long since received by the common consent of almost all men. Finally, carnal reason judges either that all mankind without exception are miserable, or that fortune is more favorable to ungodly and wicked men than to the good. To the sentiment that those are blessed who fear the Lord, it has an entire aversion, as I have declared at length on Psalm 37. So much the more requisite then is it to dwell upon the consideration of this truth. Farther, as this blessedness is not apparent to the eye, it is of importance, in order to our being able to apprehend it., first to attend to the definition which will ]be given of it by and bye, and secondly, to know that it depends chiefly upon the protection of God. Although we collect together all the circumstances which seem to contribute to a happy life, surely nothing will be found more desirable than to be kept hidden under the guardianship of God. If this blessing is, in our estimation, to be preferred, as it deserves, to all other good things, whoever is persuaded that the care of God is exercised about the world and human affairs, will at the same time unquestionably acknowledge that what is here laid down is the chief point of happiness.
But before I proceed farther, it is to be noticed that in the second part of the verse there is with good reason added a mark by which the servants of God are distinguished from those who despise him. We see how the most depraved, with no less pride than audacity and mockery, boast of fearing God. The Prophet therefore requires the attestation of the life as to this; for these two things, the fear of God and the keeping of his law, are inseparable; and the root must necessarily produce its corresponding fruit. Farther, we learn from this passage that our life does not meet with the divine approbation, except it be framed according to the divine law. There is unquestionably no religion without the fear of God, and from this fear the Prophet represents our living according to the commandment and ordinance of God as proceeding.
2. For when thou shalt eat the labor of thy hands thou shalt be blessed. Some divide this sentence into two members, reading these words, For thou shalt eat the labor of thy hands, as a distinct sentence, and then what follows, Thou shalt be blessed, as the beginning of a new sentence. I indeed grant that it is true, as they assert, that the grace of God, manifested in the faithful enjoying the fruits of their labor is set in opposition to the curse to which all mankind have been subjected. But it is more natural to read the words as one sentence, bringing out this meaning — That God’s children are happy in eating the fruits of their labor; for if we make them two sentences, these words, thou, shalt be blessed, and it shall be well with thee, would contain a cold and even an insipid repetition. Here the Prophet, confirming the doctrine stated in the first verse, teaches us that we ought to form a different estimate of what happiness consists hi from that formed by the world, which makes a happy life to consist in ease, honors, and great wealth. He recalls God’s servants to the practice of moderation, which almost all men refuse to exercise. How few are to be found who, were it left to their own choice, would desire to live by their own labor; yea, who would account it a singular benefit to do so! No sooner is the name of happiness pronounced, than instantly every man breaks forth into the most extravagant ideas of what is necessary to it, so insatiable a gulf is the covetousness of the human heart. The Prophet therefore bids the fearers of God be content with this one thing — with the assurance that having God for their foster-father, they shall be suitably maintained by the labor of their own hands; just as it is said in Ps 34:10,
“The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger; but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.”
We must remember that the Prophet does not speak of the highest blessedness, which consists not in meat and drink, nor is confined within the narrow bounds of this transitory life; but he assures God’s believing people that even in this pilgrimage or earthly place of sojourn they shall enjoy a happy life, in so far as the state of the world will permit; even as Paul declares that God promises both these to such as fear him, in other words, that God will take care of us during the whole course of our life, until he has at last brought us to eternal glory. (1Ti 4:8.) The change of person serves also to give greater emphasis to the language; for after having),’ spoken in the third person, the Prophet comes to address his discourse to. each individual in particular, to this effect: — Not only does immortal felicity await thee in heaven, but during thy pilgrimage in this world God will not cease to perform the office of the father of a family in maintaining thee, so that thy daily food will be administered to thee by his hand, provided thou art contented with a lowly condition.
3 Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine on the sides of thy house. Here again it is promised, as in the preceding Psalm, that God will make those who honor him fruitful in a numerous offspring. The majority of mankind indeed desire to have issue, and this desire may be said to be implanted in them by nature; but many, when they have obtained children, soon become cloyed therewith. Again it is often more grateful to want children than to leave a number of them hi circumstances of destitution. But although the world is carried away by irregular desires after various objects, between which it is perpetually fluctuating in its choice, God gives this his own blessing, the preference to all riches, and therefore we ought to hold it in high estimation. If a man has a wife of amiable manners as the companion of his life, let him set no less value upon this blessing than Solomon did, who, in Pr 19:14, affirms that it is God alone who gives a good wife. In like manner, if a man be a father of a numerous offspring, let him receive that goodly boon with a thankful heart. If it is objected that the Prophet in speaking thus, detains the faithful on the earth by the allurements of the flesh, and hinders them from aspiring towards heaven with free and unencumbered minds, I answer, that it is not surprising to find him offering to the Jews under the law a taste of God’s grace and paternal favor, when we consider that they were like children. He has, however, so tempered, or mixed it, as that by it; they might rise in their contemplations to the heavenly life. Even at the present day God, though in a more sparing manner, testifies his favor by temporal benefits, agreeably to that passage in Paul’s first Epistle to Timothy just now quoted, (1Ti 4:8,)
“Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.”
But by this he does not cast any hindrance or impediment in our way to keep us from elevating our minds to heaven, but ladders are by this means rather erected to enable us to mount up thither step by step. The Prophet, therefore, very properly reminds the faithful that they already receive some fruit of their integrity, when God gives them their food, makes them happy in their wives and children, and condescends to take care of their life. But his design in commending the present goodness of God is to animate them to hasten forward with alacrity on the path which leads to their eternal inheritance. If the earthly felicity described in this Psalm may not always be the lot of the godly, but should it sometimes happen that their wife is a termagant, or proud, or of depraved morals, or that their children are dissolute and vagabonds, and even bring disgrace upon their father’s house, let them know that their being deprived of God’s blessing is owing to their having repulsed it by their own fault. And surely if each duly considers his own vices he will acknowledge that God’s earthly benefits have been justly withheld from him.
4. Lo! surely, thus blessed shall be the man who feareth Jehovah. 5. Jehovah shall bless thee from Zion; and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life: 6. And thou shalt see thy children’s children, and peace upon Israel.
4. Lo! surely, thus blessed shall be the man who feareth Jehovah. The preceding doctrine, that even in the outward condition of God’s servants while in this transitory state there is afforded such evidence of the divine favor and goodness as demonstrates that we do not lose our labor in serving him, is here confirmed by the Prophet. Yet as the reward of godliness does not appear eminently conspicuous, he, in the first place, uses the demonstrative particle, Lo! 107 and then adds surely; for so I interpret the particle כי, ki. We must, however, always remember, as I have previously noticed, that the divine blessing is promised to us upon earth in such a way as that it may not engross our thoughts and keep them grovelling in the dust; for it is not meet that our hope of the life to come should be stifled. This is the reason why we do not at all times equally enjoy the benefits of God.
5. Jehovah shall bless thee from Zion. Some, would have this sentence to be a prayer, and therefore they resolve the future tense into the optative mood. But it seems rather to be a continued statement of the same doctrine previously dwelt on, the Prophet now expressing more plainly that the benefits which he has recounted are to be ascribed to God as their author. Although the gifts of God often present themselves before our eyes, yet through the obscurity which false imaginations throw around them our perception of them is dim and imperfect. Hence this repetition of the sentiment, That whenever true believers meet with any prosperous events in the course of their life, it is the effect of the divine blessing, is not to be deemed superfluous. The persons described are said to be blessed from Zion, to lead them to call to remembrance the covenant into which God had entered with them, for he had graciously promised to be favorable to the observers of his law; and these principles of godliness they had imbibed from their infancy. The Prophet, therefore, declares that it is no novel doctrine or something before unheard of which he adduces, the law having long ago taught them that it is made manifest even by the temporary benefits conferred on those who serve God, that the pains taken in serving him are not thrown away; and he affirms that of this they shall actually have the experience. What is added concerning the good of Jerusalem is to be regarded as en-joining upon the godly the duty not only of seeking their own individual welfare, or of being devoted to their own peculiar interests, but rather of having it as chief desire to see the Church of God in a flourishing condition. It would be a very unreasonable thing for each member to desire what may be profitable for itself, while in the meantime the body was neglected. From our extreme proneness to err in that respect, the Prophet, with good reason, recommends solicitude about the public welfare; and he mingles together domestic blessings and the common benefits of the Church in such a way as to show us that they are things joined together, and which it is unlawful to put asuader.
“The tables of the Jews, as we may hence (and from 1Sa 16:11) infer, were round: they had sobs (Eze 23:41) placed about them, on which (Ge 27:19; Jud 10:6; 1 Sam. 2:5, 24, 25; 1Ki 13:20) they sat, excepting at the Paschal feast.” — Cresswell. In the Illustrated Commentary upon the Bible, the writer on this passage objects to the common reading — Fruitful vine by the sides of thine house. olive-plants round about thy table. “We do not remember,” says he, “to have met with a single instance in the East of vines trained against the walls of a house, or of olives near or about a house. Neither have we read of such instances. The passage doubtless derives its figures from the fertility of the vine, and from the appearance of the olive, or the order in which olive-trees are planted.” He accordingly proposes the following construction — “Thy wife, on the sides (interior apartments) of thy house, shall be as the fruitful vine; and thy children, round about thy table, like olive-plants.”
“Lequel true fois ayant bon vent sur mer, et la navigation prospore apres avoir pille une temple.” — Fr.
Il use en premier lieu d’un mot qui est commoe pour demonstrer la chose au doigt ou a l’oeil, voyla — Fr. “He, in the first place, uses a word, which is, as it were, to point to the thing with the finger, or show it to the eye, Lo!”