Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 12: Psalms, Part V, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
The Psalmist is led to celebrate the praises of God by reflecting upon his excellent wisdom, goodness, and righteousness, both in the government of the world generally, and particularly in managing, superintending, and defending the children of men. After recounting in general the praises of his providence, he comes to speak of the special favor shown by him to his own people.
The Praise of David 275
1. I will extol thee, my God and my king! 276 and I will bless thy name for ever and ever. 2. Daily I will bless thee, and will praise thy name for ever and ever. 277 3. Great is Jehovah, and greatly to be praised, and there is no searching out, his greatness. 4. Generation to generation, will praise thy works, and will show forth thy power. 5. I will meditate upon 278 the beauty of the glory of thy excellency, and the words of thy wonderful things. 6. And they shall speak of the might of thy terrible works, and I will declare thy greatness.
1. I will extol thee, my God and my king. David does not so much tell what he would do himself, as stir up and urge all others to this religious service of offering to God the praises due to his name. The design with which he declares God to be beneficent to the children of men is, to induce them to cultivate a pious gratitude, he insists upon the necessity of persevering in the exercise; for since God is constant in extending mercies, it would be highly improper in us to faint in his praises. As he thus gives his people new ground for praising him, so he stimulates them to gratitude, and to exercise it throughout the whole course of their life. In using the term daily, he denotes perseverance in the exercise. Afterwards he adds, that should he live through a succession of ages he would never cease to act in this manner. The repetitions used tend very considerably to give emphasis to his language. As it is probable that the Psalm was written at a time when the kingdom of David was in a flourishing condition, the circumstances deserves notice, that in calling God his king he gives both himself and other earthly princes their proper place, and does not allow any earthly distinctions to interfere with the glory due to God.
This is made still more manifest in the verse which follows, where, in speaking of the greatness of God as unmeasurable, he intimates that we only praise God aright when we are filled and overwhelmed with an ecstatic admiration of the immensity of his power. This admiration will form the fountain from which our just praises of him will proceed, according the measure of our capacity.
4. Generation to generation, etc. Here he insists upon the general truth, that all men were made and are preserved in life for this end, that they may devote themselves to the praise of God. And there is an implied contrast between the eternal name of God, and that immortality of renown which great men seem to acquire by their exploits. Human excellencies are eulogized in histories; with God it stands differently, for there is not a day in which he does not. renew remembrance of his works, and cherish it by some present effect, so as indelibly to preserve it alive upon our minds. For the same reason he speaks of the glorious brightness, or beauty of his excellence, the better to raise in others a due admiration of it. By the words of his wonderful works, I consider that there is an allusion to the incomprehensible method of God’s works, for so many are the wonders that they overwhelm our senses. And we may infer from this, that the greatness of God is not that which lies concealed in his mysterious essence, and in subtle disputation upon which, to the neglect of his works, many have been chargeable with mere trifling, for true religion demands practical not speculative knowledge. Having said that he would speak of, or meditate upon God’s works, (for the Hebrew word, אשיחה, asichah, as we have elsewhere seen, may be rendered either way,) he transfers his discourse to others, intimating, that there will always be some in the world to declare the righteousness, goodness, and wisdom of God, and that his divine excellencies are worthy of being sounded, with universal consent, by every tongue. And, should others desist and defraud God of the honor due to him, he declares that he would himself at least discharge his part, and, while they were silent, energetically set forth the praises of God. Some think, that the might of his terrible works is an expression to the same effect with what had been already stated. But it seems rather to denote the judgments of God against profane scoffers.
7. They shall steak forth [or, utter copiously] the memory of the greatness of thy goodness, and shall sing of thy righteousness. 8. Jehovah is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and great in mercy. 9. Jehovah is good to all, and his mercies above all his works. 10. All thy works shall praise thee, O Jehovah! and thy merciful ones shall bless thee. 11. They shall speak the glory of thy kingdom, and shall talk of thy power. 12. That they may make known his powers to the sons of men, and the glory of the beauty of his kingdom. 13. Thy kingdom is a kingdom of all ages, and thy dominion unto all successive generations. 279
7. They shall speak forth, etc. As the verb נבע, nabang, means properly to gush out, some suppose, that, as applied to speech, it means not simply speaking, but an overflowing utterance, like water rushing from a fountain, and the verb ירננו, yerannenu, in the close of the verse, answers to this, meaning to shout, or sing aloud. To celebrate the memory of the Lord’s goodness, is the same with recalling to memory what we have personally experienced of his goodness. We cannot deny God’s claim to praise in all his excellencies, but we are most sensibly affected by such proofs of his fatherly mercy as we have ourselves experienced. David makes use, therefore, of this alluring consideration to induce us the more readily and cheerfully to engage in the praises of God, or rather, (according to the figurative word already used,) to burst forth in celebration of them.
8. Jehovah is gracious, etc. He opens up the goodness of which he spoke by using several expressions, as that God is inclined to mercy, (for such is the proper meaning of the word חנון, channun,) and that he helps us willingly, as one sympathizing with our miseries. It is to be noticed that David has borrowed the terms which he here applies to God from that celebrated passage in Ex 34:6; and as the inspired writers drew their doctrine from the fountain of the law, we need not wonder that they set a high value upon the vision which is there recorded, and in which as clear and satisfactory a description of the nature of God is given us as can anywhere be found. David, therefore, in giving us a brief statement of what it was most important we should know in reference to God, makes use of the same terms employed there. Indeed no small part of the grace of God is to be seen in his alluring us to himself by such attractive titles. Were he to bring his power prominently into view before us, we would be cast down by the terror of it rather than encouraged, as the Papists represent him a dreadful God, from whose presence all must fly, whereas the proper view of him is that which invites us to seek after him. Accordingly, the more nearly that a person feels himself drawn to God, the more has he advanced in the knowledge of him. If it be true that God is not only willing to befriend us, but is spoken of as touched with sympathy for our miseries, so as to be all the kinder to us the more that we are miserable, what folly were it not to fly to him without delay? But as we drive God’s goodness away from us by our sins, and block up the way of access, unless his goodness overcome this obstacle, it would be in vain that the Prophets spoke of his grace and mercy. 280 It was necessary, therefore, to add what follows, that great is his mercy, that he pardons sins, and bears with the wickedness of men, so as to show favor to the unworthy. As regards the ungodly, although God shows them his long-suffering patience, they are incapable of perceiving pardon, so that the doctrine on which we insist has a special application to believers only, who apprehend God’s goodness by a living faith. To the wicked it is said —
“To what end is the day of the Lord for you? the day of the Lord is darkness and not light, affliction and not joy.”
We see in what severe terms Nahum threatens them at the very beginning of his prophecy. Having referred to the language used in the passage from Moses, he adds immediately, on the other hand, to prevent them being emboldened by it, that God is a rigid and severe, a terrible and an inexorable judge. (Na 1:3.) They therefore who have provoked God to anger by their sins, must see to secure his favor by believing.
9. Jehovah is good to all, etc. The truth here stated is of wider application than the former, for the declaration of David is to the effect, that not only does God, with fatherly indulgence and clemency, forgive sin, but is good to all without discrimination, as he makes his sun to rise upon the good and upon the wicked. (Mt 5:45.) Forgiveness of sin is a treasure from which the wicked are excluded, but their sin and depravity does not prevent God from showering down his goodness upon them, which they appropriate without being at all sensible of it. Meanwhile believers, and they only, know what it is to enjoy a reconciled God, as elsewhere it is said —
“Come ye to him, and be ye enlightened, and your faces shall not be ashamed; taste and see that the Lord is good.”
(Ps. 34:5, 8.)
When it is added that the mercy of God extends to all his works, this ought not to be considered as contrary to reason, or obscure. Our sins having involved the whole world in the curse of God, there is everywhere an opportunity for the exercise of God’s mercy, even in helping the brute creation.
10. All thy works, etc. Though many would suppress God’s praises, observing a wicked silence regarding them, David declares that they shine forth everywhere, appear of themselves, and are sounded, as it were, by the very dumb creatures. He then assigns the special work of declaring them to believers, who have eyes to perceive God’s works, and know that they cannot be employed better than in celebrating his mercies. What is added — they shall speak the glory of thy kingdom — I consider to have reference only to believers. If any incline to think that these words rather apply to God’s creatures universally, I would not object to that view. But the particular kind of speaking or teaching which David here refers to, applies only to saints. Accordingly I have retained the future tense of the verbs, rather than the optative mood, as others have done. In using the term kingdom, David intimates that this is the tendency of the manifestation of God’s works, to reduce the whole world to a state of order, and subject it to his government. He insists upon the excellency of this kingdom, that men may know that things are to be considered as in disorder and confusion, unless God alone be acknowledged supreme. He denies it to be transitory, like all earthly kingdoms, asserting that it will stand fast for ever. And to call our attention more particularly to its everlasting nature, he breaks out into an admiring exclamation, and addresses his discourse to God.
14. Jehovah upholding all the falling, 281 and raising up all who are bowed down. 15. The eyes of all hope in thee, and thou givest them their food in its season. 16. Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest every living thing by thy good pleasure.
14. Jehovah upholding all the falling. He gives instances of the goodness and mercy of God, such as make it evident that God reigns only for the promotion of the general welfare of mankind. By the falling, and those who are bowed down, he means figuratively those who are overwhelmed by adversity, and would sink at once, were not God to extend his hand for their support. God, in short, has respect to the troubles of men, and helps such as are in distress, so that all ought not only to look upon his divine government with reverence, but willingly and cordially submit themselves to it. Another lesson taught us is, that none will be disappointed who seeks comfort from God in his affliction.
15. The eyes of all hope in thee. David adduces an additional proof of God’s goodness, in giving food to all living creatures, and thus showing himself in the character of the father of a family. Some interpreters, led by the term hope, which is employed, restrict the application to men, as being endued with reason and intelligence, to seek their food from their heavenly father, while the beasts seek it only in a gross manner, by sight or smell. But although not endued with the exercise of reason, leading them to depend upon God’s providence, necessity itself forces even them, by a certain hidden instinct, to seek their food, so that they may very properly be said to hope in God, as elsewhere the young ravens are said to cry unto him. (Ps 147:9.) Besides, those who would restrict the words to man, still leave them open to the charge of impropriety; for the wicked have no regard to the fatherly care of God, more than the ox or the ass. Since such is the order established in nature that all animals are brought to a dependence upon their Maker, there is no impropriety in supposing the affection of desire or expectation to be here put for the fact of dependence itself. 282 All ambiguity is taken away by the next verse, where every living thing is said to be satisfied. It is said that he gives them their food, and in its season, for the very variety of it serves more to illustrate the providence of God. Each has its own way of feeding, and the different kinds of aliment are designed and adapted for different uses. David therefore speaks of that food which is particular to them. The pronoun is not in the plural, and we are not to read in their season, as if it applied to the animals. The food he notices as given in its season; for here also we are to notice the admirable arrangements of divine providence, that there is a certain time appointed for harvest, vintage, and hay crop, and that the year is so divided into intervals, that the cattle are fed at one time upon grass, at another on hay, or straw, or acorns, or other products of the earth. Were the whole supply poured forth at one and the same moment, it could not be gathered together so conveniently; and we have no small reason to admire the seasonableness with which the different kinds of fruit and aliment are yearly produced.
16. Thou openest thine hand, etc. The figure is a beautiful one. Most men pass over without observation the singular goodness of God apparent in this admirable ordering of things in nature, and David therefore represents him as stretching out his hand to distribute to the animals their food. We sinfully confine our attention to the earth which yields us our food, or to natural causes. To correct this error David describes God as opening his hands to put the food into our mouths. The word רצון, ratson, some render desire, as though he meant that God supplied each kind of animal with food according to its wish. And a little afterwards we do indeed find it used in that sense. Others, however, refer it rather to God’s feeding them of his mere good pleasure and kindness; it not being enough to say that our food is given us by God, unless we add, as in the second clause of the verse, that his kindness is gratuitous, and that there is no extrinsic cause whatever moving him to provide so liberally for every living creature. In that case the cause is put for the effect; the various kinds of provision being effects of his good pleasure — χαρισματα της χάριτος. If it be found that men and others of his creatures often suffer and die from want, this is to be traced to the change which has come upon nature by sin. The fair order which subsisted in it by God’s original appointment often fails since the fall through our sins, and yet in what remains of it, though marred, we may see the kindness of God referred to by David, for in the severest failures of crop, there is no year so barren and unproductive, that God may not be said to open his hand in it.
17. Jehovah is righteous in all his ways, and merciful in all his works. 18. Jehovah is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth. 19. He will perform the desire of them that fear him, and will hear their cry, and will save them. 20. Jehovah preserves all them that love him, and will destroy all the wicked. 21. My mouth shall speak the praise of Jehovah, and all, flesh shall bless his holy name for ever and ever.
17. Jehovah is righteous in all his ways. He does not now speak of God’s goodness merely in providing all his creatures with their daily food, but comprehends other parts of his providence, as in correcting men for their sins, restraining the wicked, trying the patience of his people under the cross, and governing the world by judgments which are often inscrutable to us. The ground upon which praise is here ascribed to God may seem a common one, being in every one’s mouth; but in nothing is wisdom shown more than in holding fast the truth, that God is just in all his ways, so as to retain in our hearts an unabated sense of it amidst all troubles and confusions. Though all acknowledge God to be just, most men are no sooner overtaken by affliction than they quarrel with his severity: unless their wishes are immediately complied with, they are impatient, and nothing is more common than to hear his justice impeached. As it is everywhere abused by the wicked imputations men cast upon it, here it is very properly vindicated from such ungrateful treatment, and asserted to be constant and unfailing, however loudly the word may disparage it. It is expressly added, in all his ways and works, for we fail to give God due honor unless we recognize a consistent tenor of righteousness in the whole progress of his operation. Nothing is more difficult in the time of trouble, when God has apparently forsaken us, or afflicts us without cause, than to restrain our corrupt feelings from breaking out against his judgments; as we are told of the emperor Mauricius in a memorable passage of history, that seeing his sons murdered by the wicked and perfidious traitor Phocas, and being about to be carried out himself to death, he cried out — “Thou art righteous, O God, and just are thy judgments!” As this man of no bad character opposed such a shield to the cruel trials he met with, we must learn to put a check upon our spirits, and always give God’s righteousness the honor due to it. David, however, goes farther still, intimating that God, even when he seems to be most severe, is so far from being cruel as to temper his heaviest judgments with equity and clemency.
18. Jehovah is near to all that call upon him. This truth is principally applicable to believers, whom God in the way of singular privilege invites to draw near him, promising that he will be favorable to their prayers. Faith, there is no doubt, lies idle and even dead without prayer, in which the spirit of adoption shows and exercises itself, and by which we evidence that all his promises are considered by us as stable and sure. The inestimable grace of God, in short, towards believers, appears in this, that he exhibits himself to them as a Father. As many doubts steal upon us when we pray to God, and we either approach him with trembling, or fail by becoming discouraged and lifeless, David declares it to be true without exception, that God hears all who call upon him. At the same time, as most men pervert and profane the method of calling upon God through inventions of their own, the right manner of praying is laid down in the next part of the verse, which is, that we should pray in truth. Although men resort to God in a cold manner, or even in their prayers expostulate with him, while their hearts are swelling with pride or with anger, they yet complain that they are not heard; just as if there were no difference between praying and quarreling, or the exercise of faith and hypocrisy. The greater part of men, involved in infidelity, scarcely believe that there is a God in heaven at all; others would banish him from it if they could; others would tie him down to their views and, wishes, while some seek slight and insufficient ways of reconciling him, so that the common way of praying is but an idle and empty ceremony. 283 And although nearly all men without exception have recourse to God in the time of their need, they are few indeed who bring the smallest measure of faith or repentance. It were better that the name of God should be buried in oblivion than exposed to such insults. There is good reason, therefore, why truth should be said to be necessary in our prayers — that they come from a sincere heart. The falsehood, which is the opposite of this sincerity, is of various kinds; indeed it were difficult to enumerate them — infidelity, wavering, impatience, murmuring, pretended humility, in short there are as many sorts of it as there are sinful dispositions. The truth being one of no small importance, David again confirms and enlarges upon it in the next verse. The repetition is worthy of our particular notice, for such is our tendency to unbelief, that there are few who in calling upon God do not look upon their prayers as fruitless. Hence the perverse manner in which the wandering minds of men are tossed hither and thither, as in the Papacy they invented patrons without number, holding it of no importance almost to embrace with an unwavering faith the promises by which God invites us to himself.
To throw the door still more open, the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of David, tells us, that God will accommodate himself to the desires of all who fear him. This is a mode of expression of which it is difficult to say how much it ought to impress our minds. Who is man, that God should show complaisance to his will, when rather it is ours to look up to his exalted greatness, and humbly submit to his authority? Yet he voluntarily condescends to these terms, to obtemper our desires. At the same time, there is a check to be put upon this liberty, and we have not a license of universal appetency, as if his people might forwardly clamor for whatever their corrupt desires listed, but before God says that he will hear their prayers, he enjoins the law of moderation and submission upon their affections, as we learn from John, —
“We know that he will deny us nothing,
if we seek it according to his will.” (1Jo 5:14.)
For the same reason, Christ dictated that form of prayer, “Thy will be done,” setting limits round us, that we should not preposterously prefer our desires to those of God, nor ask without deliberation what first comes into our mouth. David, in making express mention of them that fear God, enjoins fear, reverence, and obedience upon them before holding out the favorable indulgence of God, that they might not think themselves warranted to ask more than his word grants and approves. When he speaks of their cry, this is a kind of qualification of what he had said. For God’s willingness to grant our prayers is not always so apparent that he answers them at the very moment they are made. We have, therefore, need of perseverance in this trial of our faith, and our desires must be confirmed by crying. The last clause — he will save them — is also added by way of correction, to make us aware how far, and for what end God answers the prayers of his people, namely, to evidence in a practical manner that he is the faithful guardian of their welfare.
20. Jehovah preserves, etc. He insists upon the same truth, — that God is near to his people to help them in the time of need; this being a sure proof of his presence, that by his mercy they come safe and unhurt out of every danger which befalls them. It is worthy of our notice, that, instead of fear, he now speaks of love; for, in distinguishing believers by this title, that they love God, he intimates it to be the root of true godliness, that they submit themselves to him voluntarily, which again is the effect of faith. Till God draw us by the attractions of his grace, this placid submission will never follow. The love spoken of by David, however, is perhaps more extensive, as God’s people not only attach themselves to him in the way of obedience to his authority, but knowing that union to him is of all other things most desirable, aspire with their whole soul after this happiness. Still there can be no doubt, that the reference is to it here as the chief part of holiness and righteousness, as was said by Moses,
“And now, O Israel, what does the Lord thy God require of thee,” etc. (De 10:12.)
This effect of godliness in securing our safety and preservation under the divine guardianship, David exemplifies by an opposition clause, declaring, that all the wicked shall, in the just judgment of God, miserably perish. That he might close as he had begun, he again affirms, that he will publish the praises of God, and urges all to the same duty by his example. Some would read, every living thing shall bless, but this does not seem to me a proper reading. When Moses, speaking of the flood, says, that “all flesh in which was the breath of life perished,” I grant that the term comprehends the brute creation, but wherever “flesh” is mentioned without any addition, the reference is only to men. Nor is David here stating what they would, but what they should do, declaring all men bound by the great and inexhaustible goodness of God constantly and for ever to praise him.
This Psalm is with much propriety entitled “Praise of David;” for it is throughout a continued celebration of the perfections and doings of God. It is certainly one of the most interesting and beautiful of the compositions of the sweet singer of Israel; and so high an opinion did the ancient Hebrews form of it that they were wont to say — “Whoever utters this Psalm thrice each day with the heart and tongue is a happy man, and shall infallibly enjoy the blessings of the world to come.” The time and occasion of its composition can only be conjectured. Dr. Morison thinks it probable that it was composed by David when he and the nation of Israel obtained the blessings which he implored in the preceding Psalm; and that it is that new song which he purposed to sing (Ps 144:9) when God appeared in glory for his chosen people. This is the last of the alphabetical Psalms. The first verse commences with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the second verse with the second letter, and so on to the close, with the exception that the hemistich of which נ, nun, was the commencing letter is wanting. The other alphabetical Psalms are Psalm 25, Psalm 34, Psalm 37, Psalm 111, Psalm 112, Psalm 119.
The Jewish government was a theocracy.
“In seculum et usque.” — Lat. The original Hebrew words are לעילם ועד, leolam vaad, which Dr. Adam Clarke had translated “for ever and onward in this and the coming world.” “These sorts of expressions,” he adds, “are very difficult to be translated.”
“Ou, parleray.” — Fr. marg. “Or, will speak of.”
After this verse two lines appear to have been lost in the Hebrew text. The Psalm, as we have said before, is alphabetical; and each stanza begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in regular order, till we come to Ps 145:14, when a break — the only one in the Psalm — takes place. Ps 145:13 begins with the letter מ, mem, and Ps 145:14 with the letter ס, samech. Thus the stanza beginning with the letter, נ, nun, is wanting. It is thus supplied in the Septuagint: Πιστὸς Κύριος ἐν πᾶσι τοῖς λόγοις αὐτοῦ καὶ ὅσιος ἐν πᾶσι τοῖς ἔργοις αὐτοῦ. “Faithful is Jehovah in all his words, and holy in all his works.” Dr. Adam Clarke, after observing that there is not a verse answering to נ, nun, in any of the printed copies of the Hebrew Bible, states, that there is one MS., now in Trinity College, Dublin, which has it thus (he supposes by correction) at the bottom of the page:
נאמּנ יהוה בכל דבריו וצׂיד בכל מֵסיו
Neeman Yehovah be-cal debaraiv; ve-chasid be-cal maasaiv.
This exactly corresponds with the reading in the Septuagint. “Nothing,” says Dr. Lowth in Merrick’s Annotations on the Psalms, “can be more certain than the genuineness of the verse נ which the Septuagint has preserved, varying only in two words from Ps 145:17.”
“Si la bonte de Dieu ne surmonte cest empeschement, c’est en vain que les Prophetes traitteroyent de sa grace et misericorde.” — Fr.
“נפלים nophelim, the falling, or those who are not able to keep their feet — the weak. He shores them up — he is their prop. No man falls through his own weakness merely; if he rely on God, the strongest foe cannot shake him.” — Dr. Adam Clarke
“Il ne sera point mal connenable que l’affection soit yei mise pour la chose mesme.” — Fr.
“Les autres voudroyent qu’il fust sujet a eux: les autres comme par maniere d’acquit cerchent cluelque moyen de l’appaiser,” etc. — Fr.