Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 12: Psalms, Part V, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
A Psalm of thanksgiving for that holy concord which prevailed in the nation, and which the Lord’s people are earnestly exhorted to maintain.
A Song of Degrees of David.
1. Behold! how good, and how becoming, that brethren 142 should even dwell together! 2. Like the precious ointment upon the head, that descendeth upon the beard, the beard of Aaron, which descendeth upon the skirt of his garments. 143 3. Like the dew of Hermon, 144 which descendeth upon the mountains of Zion, 145 for there 146 Jehovah commanded the blessing, life for evermore.
1. Behold how good, etc. I have no doubt that David in this Psalm renders thanks to God for the peace and harmony which had succeeded a long and melancholy state of confusion and division in the kingdom, and that he would exhort all individually to study the maintenance of peace. This is the subject enlarged upon, at least so far as the shortness of the Psalm admits of it. There was ample ground to praise the goodness of God in the highest terms, for uniting in one a people which had been so deplorably divided. When he first came to the kingdom the larger part of the nation considered him in the light of an enemy to the public good, and were alienated from him. Indeed so mortal was the feud which existed, that nothing else than the destruction of the party in opposition seemed to hold out the prospect of peace. The hand of God was wonderfully seen, and most unexpectedly, in the concord which ensued among them, when these who had been inflamed with the most violent antipathy cordially coalesced. This 147 peculiarity in the circumstances which called forth the Psalm has been unfortunately by interpreters, who have considered that David merely passes a general commendation upon brotherly union, without any such particular reference. The exclamation with which the Psalm opens, Behold! is particularly expressive, not only as setting the state of things visibly before our eyes, but suggesting a tacit contrast between the delightfulness of peace and those civil commotions which had wellnigh rent the kingdom asunder. He sets forth the goodness of God in exalted terms, the Jews having by long experience of intestine feuds, which had gone far to ruin the nation, learned the inestimable value of union. That this is the sense of the passage appears still further from the particle גם, gam, at the end of the verse. It is not to be understood with some, who have mistaken the sense of the Psalmist, as being a mere copulative, but as adding emphasis to the context. We, as if he had said, who were naturally brethren, had become so divided, as to view one another with a more bitter hatred than any foreign foe, but now how well is it that we should cultivate a spirit of brotherly concord!
There can at the same time be no doubt; that the Holy Ghost is to be viewed as commending in this passage that mutual harmony which should subsist amongst all God’s children, and exhorting us to make every endeavor to maintain it. So long as animosities divide us, and heartburnings prevail amongst us, we may be brethren no doubt still by common relation to God, but cannot be judged one so long as we present the appearance of a broken and dismembered body. As we are one in God the Father, and in Christ, the union must be ratified amongst us by reciprocal harmony, and fraternal love. Should it so happen in the providence of God, that the Papists should return to that holy concord which they have apostatized from, it would be in such terms as these that we would be called to render thanksgiving unto God, and in the meantime we are bound to receive into our brotherly embraces all such as cheerfully submit themselves to the Lord. We are to set ourselves against those turbulent spirits which the devil will never fail to raise up in the Church, and be sedulous to retain intercourse with such as show a docile and tractable disposition. But we cannot extend this intercourse to those who obstinately persist in error, since the condition of receiving them as brethren would be our renouncing him who is Father of all, and from whom all spiritual relationship takes its rise. The peace which David recommends is such as begins in the true head, and this is quite enough to refute the unfounded charge of schism and division which has been brought against us by the Papists, while we have given abundant evidence of our desire that they would coalesce with us in God’s truth, which is the only bond of holy union.
3. Like the precious ointment upon the head. We have here clear proof that David, as we have just said, holds all true union among brethren to take its rise from God, and to have this for its legitimate object, that all may be brought to worship God in purity, and call upon iris name with one consent. Would the similitude have been borrowed from holy ointment if it had not been to denote, that religion must always hold the first place? 148 Any concord, it is thus insinuated, which may prevail amongst men, is insipid, if not pervaded by a sweet savor of God’s worship. We maintain, therefore, that men are to be united amongst themselves in mutual affection, with this as the great end., that they may be placed together under the government of God. If there be any who disagree with these terms, we would do well rather to oppose them strenuously, than purchase peace at the expense of God’s honor. We must hold, that when mention is made of the Priest, it is to intimate, that concord takes its rise in the true and pure worship of God, while by the beard and skirts of the garments, we are led to understand that the peace which springs from Christ as the head, is diffused through the whole length and breadth of the Church. The other figure, of the dew distilling upon Mount Zion and Hermon, denotes, that a holy unity has not only a sweet savor before God, but is productive of good effects, as the dew moistens the earth and supplies it with sap and freshness. Moses, we know, said of Judea, that it was not like Egypt fertilized by the overflowings of its river, but such as drank daily of the rain of heaven. (De 11:11.) David suggests, that the life of man would be sapless, unprofitable, and wretched, unless sustained by brotherly harmony. It is evident, that mount Hermon must have been rich and fruitful, being famed amongst places for pasture. Mountains depend principally for fertility upon the dews of heaven, and this was shown in the case of mount Zion. David adds in the close, that God commands his blessing where peace is cultivated; by which is meant, that he testifies how much tie is pleased with concord amongst men, by showering down blessings upon them. The same sentiment is expressed by Paul in other words, (2Co 13:11; Php 4:9,) “Live in peace, and the God of peace shall be with you.” Let us then, as much as lies in us, study to walk in brotherly love, that we may secure the divine blessing. Let us even stretch out our arms to those who differ from us, desiring to bid them welcome if they will but return to the unity of the faith. Do they refuse? Then let them go. We recognize no brotherhood, as I have said already, except amongst the children of God.
The word brethren is not limited to those who are descended from the same parents; it denotes such as are members of the same community, profess the same holy religion, and are governed by the same institutions. All the people of Israel are in the first instance here addressed.
Kimchi, Jarchi, and others, instead of “to the skirts,” translate “to the collar of his garment.” This seems to give the true meaning of the original, which implies that the head and beard of Aaron only were anointed, and that the costly sacerdotal robes were thus preserved from an unction, which must inevitably have spoiled them. For an account of this ointment and of its sprinkling on Aaron, and his sons, see Exod. 30:23, 30; Le 8:12. When Aaron was consecrated High Priest the oil was poured on him, whilst on the other priests it was only sprinkled.
There is a mountain called Hermon, which is the highest of the ridge of mountains designated Anti-Lebanon, and which is situated in the northern border of the country beyond Jordan. This, however, is not the mountain supposed to be here intended, but another of the same name lying within the land of Canaan on the west of the river Jordan. It is described by Buckingham as a range of hills running for several miles east and west, and forming the southern boundary of the plain of Esdraelon, overlooked in which Mount Tabor is situated. Maundrell, who, in his journey from Aleppo to Jerusalem had a full view of Tabor and Hermon at about six or seven hours’ distance to the eastward, speaking of the copious dews which fell in that part of the country, says, “We were sufficiently instructed by experience what the Psalmist means by the dew of Hermon, our tents being as wet with it as if it had rained all night.” — Journey.
Calvin gives the construction of these words as it is in the Hebrew text. But to make them intelligible something must be supplied. As Hermon and Zion are many miles distant from each other, it would be absurd to speak of the dews of the former as falling on the latter, not to mention the difficulty of understanding how the dew of one mountain can descend upon another. The translators of our English Bible repeat the words like the dew before which descended; and the insertion of this supplement is fully justified, as it is the most natural way of bringing out an intelligent meaning.
“The particles, כי שם, refer not to Zion, but are put as introducing the reason of the goodness spoken of in Ps 133:1, חיים.” — Phillips. Others, as Lowth, maintain that שםmust refer to Zion, and that to it the blessing must also refer. “May not שםmean the place wherever brethren dwell together in unity?” — Archbishop Seeker.
“Les expositeurs laissent passer cette cireonstanee, et mal, comme si David louoit generalement, et sans son propre regard, le consentement fraternel, etc.” Fr.
“Car a quel propos tireroit il ceste similitude de l’huile sacree, sinon a ceste fin clue la vraye religion tiene tousjours le premier lieu?” Ft.