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1Blessed are they who are upright In these words the prophet sets forth the same paradox which we met with at the commencement of the Book of Psalms. All men naturally aspire after happiness, but instead of searching for it in the right path, they designedly prefer wandering up and down through endless by-paths, to their ruin and destruction. The Holy Spirit deservedly condemns this apathy and blindness. And but for man’s cupidity, which, with brutish impetuosity, hurries him in the opposite direction, the meaning of the words would appear quite plain to him. And the further a man wanders from God, the happier does he imagine himself to be; and hence all treat, as a fable, what the Holy Spirit declares about true piety and the service of God. This is a doctrine which scarcely one among a hundred receives.
The term way, is here put for the manner, or course and way of life: and hence he calls those upright in their way, whose sincere and uniform desire it is to practice righteousness, and to devote their life to this purpose. In the next clause of the verse, he specifics more clearly, that a godly and righteous life consists in walking in the law of God If a person follow his own humor and caprice, he is certain to go astray; and even should he enjoy the applause of the whole world, he will only weary himself with very vanity. But it may be asked, whether the prophet excludes from the hope of happiness all who do not worship God perfectly? Were this his meaning, it would follow that none except angels alone would be happy, seeing that the perfect observance of the law is to be found in no part, of the earth. The answer is easy: When uprightness is demanded of the children of God, they do not lose the gracious remission of their sins, in which their salvation alone consists. While, then, the servants of God are happy, they still need to take refuge in his mercy, because their uprightness is not complete. In this manner are they who faithfully observe the law of God said to be truly happy; and thus is fulfilled that which is declared in Psalms 32:2, “Blessed are they to whom God imputeth not sins.” In the second verse, the same doctrine is confirmed more fully, by pronouncing blessed, not. such as are wise in their own conceit, or assume a sort of fantastical holiness, but those who dedicate themselves to the covenant of God, and yield obedience to the dictates of hits law. Farther, by these words, he tells us that God is by no means satisfied with mere external service, for he demands the sincere and honest affection of the heart. And assuredly, if God be the sole judge and disposer of our life:, the truth must occupy the principal place in our heart, because it is not sufficient to have our hands and feet only enlisted in his service.
3.Surely they do not work iniquity The statement, that they who follow God as their guide do not work iniquity, may seem to be a mere common-place, and universally admitted truth. The prophet has two reasons for making it; first, to teach us that our life must be entirely under the direction of God; and, secondly, that we may more diligently and carefully attend to his doctrine. It is acknowledged by every one, that those who render obedience to God are in no danger of going astray, and yet every one is found turning aside to his own ways. Does not such licentiousness or presumption palpably demonstrate that they have a greater regard for their own devices than for the unerring law of God? And after all, as often as a man happens to fall, is not the plea of inadvertence instantly alleged, as if none ever sinned knowingly and voluntarily; or as if the law of God, which is an antidote to all delinquencies, because it keeps all our vicious propensities in check, did not furnish us with sufficient wisdom to put us upon our guard? The prophet, therefore, very justly declares, that those who are instructed in the law of God, cannot set up the plea of ignorance when they fall into sin, seeing they are willfully blind. Were they to attend carefully to God’s voice, they would be well fortified against all the snares of Satan. To strike them with terror, he informs them in the fourth verse, that God demands a rigid observance of the law; from which it may be gathered, that he will not suffer the contemners of it to escape with impunity. Besides, by speaking to God in the second person, he places him before our eyes as a Judge.
5I wish that my ways may be directed The original word
7.I will praise thee He affirms it to be a singular instance of the loving-kindness of God, if a person has made considerable proficiency in his law. As a token and testimony of this, he here puts the giving of thanks to God; as if he should say, Lord, thou wilt confer upon me an inestimable blessing, if thou instruct me in thy law. It follows, therefore, that nothing in this life is more to be desired than this; and my fervent prayer is, that we may be fairly and fully convinced of the truth of it. For while searching carefully after such things as we deem advantageous to us, we do not overlook any earthly convenience, and yet we neglect that which is of most importance. The phrase, the judgments of thy righteousness, is the same with the commandments, in which perfect righteousness is comprehended; and thus the prophet commends God’s law on account of the thorough perfection of the doctrine contained in it. From this verse we learn, that none will praise God unfeignedly and cordially but he who has made such proficiency in his school as to mold his life into subjection to him. It is vain to make a pretense of praising God with the mouth and the tongue if we dishonor him by our life. Hence the prophet very justly here makes the fruit of genuine piety to consist in celebrating the praises of God without hypocrisy.
8I will observe thy statutes In these words he avers it to be his intention to observe the law of God, but, conscious of his own weakness, he utters a prayer that God would not deprive him of his grace. The term forsake is susceptible of two interpretations, either that God withdraws his Spirit, or that he permits his people to be brought low by adversity, as if he had forsaken them. The latter interpretation agrees best with the context, and is most in accordance with the phrase immediately subjoined,very far The prophet is not altogether averse to the trial of his faith, only he is apprehensive lest it might fail were the trial to be too long protracted, and therefore he desires to be treated with tenderness in his infirmity.,’ O God! thou sees my frame of mind, and, as I am but a man, do not conceal too long from me the tokens of thy favor, or defer helping me longer than is proper for me, lest, imagining myself to be forsaken of thee, I turn aside from the direct pursuit of godliness.”
9.Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way? In this place he repeats, in different words, the same truth which he formerly advanced, That, however much men may pique themselves upon their own works, there is nothing pure in their life until they have made a complete surrender of themselves to the word of the Lord. The more effectually to excite them to this, he produces, in an especial manner, the example of children or youths. In mentioning these, he by no means gives an unbridled license to those who have arrived at mature years, or who are aged, as if they were competent to regulate their own life, and as if their own prudence served as a law to them; but because youth puts men where two ways meet, and renders it imperative for them to select the course of life which they mean to follow, he declares that, when a person sets about the regulation of his life, no advice will prove of any advantage, unless he adopts the law of God as his rule and guide. In this way the prophet stimulates men to an early and seasonable regulation of their manners, and not to delay doing so any longer, agreeably to the words of Solomon, “Remember thy Creator in thy youth, ere the days of trouble come, and the years which shall be grief unto thee,” Ecclesiastes 12:1 (402) They who defer from time to time become hardened in their vicious practices, and arrive at mature years, when it is too late to attempt a reformation. There is another reason, arising from the fact, of the carnal propensities being very powerful in youth, requiring a dortble restraint; and the more they are inclined to excess, the greater is the necessity for curbing their licentiousness. The prophet, therefore, not without reason, exhorts them particularly to attend to the observance of the law. We may reason from the greater to the less; for if the law of God possesses the power of restraining the impetuosity of youth, so as to preserve pure and upright all who take it for their guide, then, assuredly, when they come to maturity, and their irregular desires are considerably abated, it will prove the best antidote for correcting their vices. The reason, therefore, of so much evil prevailing in the world, arises from men wallowing in their own impurity, and being disposed to yield more to their own inclination than to heavenly instruction. The only sure protection is, to regulate ourselves according to God’s word. Some, wise in their own conceit, throw themselves into the snares of Satan, others, from listlessness and languor, live a vile and wicked life.
(402) — “
10.With my whole heart Conscious of the integrity of his heart, the prophet still implores the help of God, that he might not stumble by reason of his infirmity. He makes no boast of self-preparation, as if he had spontaneously begun to inquire after God, but in praising the grace which he had experienced, he at the same time aspires after steadfastness to persevere in walking in his ways. It is folly on the part of the Papists to seize upon this and similar passages, as if the saints, of their own free will, anticipated the grace of the Holy Spirit, and afterwards were favored with his aid. The prophet does not make a division between God and himself, but rather prays God to continue his work till it is completed, agreeably with what we are generally taught, to keep God mindful of his benefits until he accomplish them.
In the meantime, there is good cause for presenting our supplication to God, to stretch out his hand towards us when he sees our minds so settled, that we are solicitous of nothing so much as acting uprightly. And as he elevates us with confidence to ask the gift of perseverance, when he inspires our hearts with proper affection towards him, so also does he entreat us for the future not to sink into a careless and languid state like soldiers who have been discharged, but seek to be constantly directed by the spirit of wisdom, and to be sustained by the principles of fortitude and virtue. David here, from his own example, points out to us a rule, that by how much a man finds himself succored by God, by so much ought he to be induced the more carefully and earnestly to implore the continuance of his aid; for unless he restrain us, we will instantly wander and go astray. This sentiment is more explicitly stated in the original word
(403) “The Hebrew
11.I have hid thy word in my heart. This psalm not being composed for the personal and peculiar use of the author only, we may therefore understand, that as frequently as David sets before us his own example, under this model he points out the course we ought to pursue. Here we are informed that we are well fortified against the stratagems of Satan when God’s law is deeply seated in our hearts. For unless it have a fast and firm hold there, we will readily fall into sin. Among scholars, those whose knowledge is confined to books, if they have not the book always before them, readily discover their ignorance; in like manner, if we do not imbibe the doctrine of God, and are well acquainted with it, Satan will easily surprise and entangle us in his meshes. Our true safeguard, then, lies not in a slender knowledge of his law, or in a careless perusal of it, but in hiding it deeply in our hearts. Here we are reminded, that however men may be convinced of their own wisdom, they are yet destitute of all right judgment, except as far as they have God as their teacher.
12.Blessed art thou, O Jehovah! Such had been the prophet’s proficiency, that he was not only one of ‘God’s disciples, but also a public teacher of the Church. Nevertheless, acknowledging himself and all the upright to be only one their journey till they arrive at the close of life, he fails not to ask for the spirit of understanding. This passage informs us generally, that if God do not enlighten us with the spirit of discernment, we are not competent to behold the light which shines forth from his law, though it be constantly before us. And thus it happens, that not a few are blind even when surrounded with the clear revelation of this doctrine, because, confident in their own perspicacity, they contemn the internal illumination of the Holy Spirit. Farther, let us learn from this passage, that none are possessed of such superiority of intellect as not to admit of constant increase. If the prophet, upon whom God had conferred so honorable an office as a teacher of the Church, confesses himself to be only a disciple or scholar, what madness is it for those who are, greatly behind him in point of attainments not to strain every nerve to rise to higher excellence? Nor does he depend upon his own merits for obtaining his requests; he beseeches God to grant them from a regard to his own glory. This appears from the phraseology by which he introduces his request, Blessed art thou, O Jehovah! intimating, that his confidence of success originated in God’s being fully entitled to all praise on account of his unbounded goodness, justice, and mercy.
13.With my lips In this verse he declares that the law of God was not only deeply engraven on his own heart, but that it was his earnest and strenuous endeavor to gain over many of his fellow-disciples into subjection to God. It is indeed a heartless matter to speak of the law of God abstractly, as we see hypocrites do, who talk very fluently about the whole doctrine of godliness, to which they are entire strangers. What the prophet noticed above, respecting the affection of the heart for God’s law, he now likewise applies to the lips. And, immediately afterwards, he again establishes the truth of what he had asserted about his cordial and unfeigned endeavors to instruct others; by saying, that he derived no less pleasure from the doctrine of God than from all the riches of the world. He indirectly contrasts his holy love for the law, with which he was inflamed, with the unholy avarice which has taken possession of almost all the world. “As wealth attracts to itself the hearts of mankind, so I have taken more exquisite delight in the progress which I make in the doctrine of godliness, than if I abounded in all manner of riches.”
15.In thy precepts That to which I formerly adverted must not be forgotten — the prophet’s not making a boast of his own acquirements, but setting before others an example for their imitation. We are aware that the majority of mankind are so much involved in the cares of the world, as to leave no time or leisure for meditating upon the doctrine of God. To meet this callous indifference, he very seasonably commends diligence and attention. And even were we not so ensnared by the world, we know how readily we lose sight of the law of God, in the daily temptations which suddenly overtake us. It is not therefore without reason that the prophet exhorts us to constant exercise, and enjoins us to direct all our energies to the subject of meditation on God’s precepts. And as the life of men is unstable, being continually distracted by the carnality of their minds, he declares that he will consider attentively the ways of God. Subsequently, he repeats the exquisite pleasure he took in this pursuit. For our proficiency in the law of God will be small, until we cheerfully and heartily set our minds upon it. And, in fact, the commencement of a good life consists in God’s law attracting us to him by its sweetness. By the same means the lusts of the flesh, too, are subdued or mitigated. In our natural state, what is more agreeable to us than that which is sinful? This will be the constant tendency of our minds, unless the delight which we feel in the law carry us in the opposite direction.
17.Do good to thy servant The term
Very similar is the doctrine contained in the next verse. Having acknowledged, that power to keep the law is imparted to men by God, he, at the same time, adds, that every man is blind, until he also enlighten the eyes of his understanding. Admitting that God gives light to us by his word, the prophet here means that we are blind amid the clearest light, until he remove the veil from our eyes. When he confesses that his eyes are veiled and shut, rendering him unable to discern the light of the heavenly doctrine, until God, by the invisible grace of his Spirit, open them, he speaks as if he were deploring his own blindness, and that of the whole human race. But, while God claims this power for himself, he tells us that the remedy is at hand, provided we do not, by trusting to our own wisdom, reject the gracious illumination offered to us. Let us learn, too, that we do not receive the illumination of the Spirit of God to make us contemn the external word, and take pleasure only in secret inspirations, like many fanatics, who do not regard themselves spiritual, except they reject the word of God, and substitute in its place their own wild speculations. Very different is the prophet’s aim, which is to inform us that our illumination is to enable us to discern the light of life, that God manifests by his word. He designates the doctrine of the law, marvelous things, (404) to humble us, to contemplate with admiration its height; and to convince us the more of our need of the grace of God, to comprehend the mysteries, which surpass our limited capacity. From which we infer, that not only the ten commandments are included in the term la but also the covenant of eternal salvation, with all its provisions, which God has made. And knowing, as we do, that Christ, “in whom are hid all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom,” “is the end of the law,” we need not be surprised at the prophet commending it, in consequence of the sublime mysteries which it contains, Colossians 2:3; Romans 10:4
(404) Marvelous things “means things which are difficult and wonderful. The reference here is to the figures and adumbration’s of the law, which so veiled and concealed the substances to which they related, that the mass of readers quite lost sight of them. The Psalmist therefore prays for Divine illumination, to enable him to solve, at least in some decree, the enigmas in which future things were enveloped.” — Walford
19.I am a stranger on the earth. It is proper to inquire into the reason for his calling himself a sojourner and stranger in the world. The great concern of the unholy and worldly is to spend their life here easily and quietly; but those who know that they have their journey to pursue, and have their inheritance reserved for them in heaven, are not engrossed nor entangled with these perishable things, but aspire after that place to which they are invited. The meaning may be thus summed up: “Lord, since I must pass quickly through the earth, what will become of me if I am deprived of the doctrine of thy law?” We learn from these words from what point we must commence our journey, if we would go on our way cheerfully unto God.
Besides, God is said to conceal his commandments from those whose eyes he does not open, because, not being endued with spiritual vision, in seeing they see not, so that what is before their eyes is hid from them. And, to demonstrate that he does not present his request in a careless manner, the prophet adds, that his affection for the law is most intense; for it is no common ardor which is expressed by him in the following language, My soul is rent with the desire it hath at all times unto thy judgments. As the man who may concentrate all his thoughts on one point with such intensity as almost to deprive him of the power of perception, may be said to be the victim of his intemperate zeal, so the prophet declares the energy of his mind to be paralyzed and exhausted by his ardent love for the law. (405) The clause, at all times, is meant to express his perseverance; for it may occasionally happen that a man may apply himself with great ardor to the study of the heavenly doctrine; but it is only temporary-his zeal soon vanishes away. Steadfastness is therefore necessary, lest, through weariness, we become faint in our minds.
(405) “Every intense exertion of mind has an influence, if it be long continued, to exhaust and impair the faculties in some degree. Such an effect is here alluded to; the close and assiduous attention which the Psalmist had paid, and the exertion of strong desire which he had exercised, produced the feeling which he here speaks of. He is also to be regarded as using the language of poetry, which admits of stronger colouring than prosaic description.” — Walford.
21.Thou hast destroyed the proud. Others render it:, Thou hast rebuked the proud; a translation of which the Hebrew term
It is not without reason that he denominates all unbelievers proud, because it is true faith alone which humbles us, and all rebellion is the offspring of pride. From this we learn how profitable it is to consider carefully and attentively the judgments of God, by which he overthrows such haughtiness. When the weak in faith see the wicked rise in furious. opposition against God, arrogantly casting off all restraint, and holding all religion in derision with impunity, they begin to question whether there be a God who sits as judge in heaven. God may, for a time, wink at this: by-and-bye, we witness him setting forth some indication of his judgment, to convince us that he hath not in vain uttered threatening against the violators of his law; and we ought to bear in mind that all who depart from him are reprobate.
Let it be carefully observed that,by wandering from his commandments, is not meant all kinds of transgression indiscriminately, but that unbridled licentiousness which proceeds from impious contempt of God. It is, indeed, given as a general sentence, that
“every one is cursed who continueth not in all
things which are written,” Deuteronomy 27:26
But as Godwin his paternal kindness, bears with those who fail through infirmity of the flesh, so here we must understand these judgments to be expressly executed upon the wicked and reprobate; and their end, as Isaiah declares, is,
“ that the inhabitants of the earth may learn righteousness,”
22.Remove from me reproach This verse may admit of two senses: Let the children of God walk as circumspectly as it is possible for them to do, they will not escape being liable to many slanders, and therefore they have good reason to petition God to protect the unfeigned godliness which they practice against poisonous tongues. The following meaning may not inappropriately be given to the passage: O Lord, since I am conscious to myself, and thou art a witness of my unfeigned integrity, do not permit the unrighteous to sully my reputation, by laying unfounded accusations to my charge. But the meaning will be more complete if we read it as forming one continued sentence: O God, permit not the ungodly to mock me for endeavoring to keep thy law. For this impiety has been rampant in the world even from the beginning, that the sincerity of God’s worshippers has been matter of reproach and derision; even as, at this day, the same reproaches are still cast upon God’s children, as if not satisfied with the common mode of living, they aspired being wiser than others. That which was spoken by Isaiah must now be accomplished, “Behold I and my children, whom thou hast given me to be for a sign;” so that God’s children, with Christ their head, are, among the profane, as persons to be wondered at. Accordingly, Peter testifies that they charge us with madness for not following their ways, (1 Peter 4:4;) and as this reproach — the becoming the subjects of ridicule on account of their unfeigned affection for God’s law — tends to the dishonor of his name, the prophet very justly demands the suppression of all these taunts; and Isaiah also, by his own example, directs us to flee to this refuge, because, although the wicked may arrogantly pour out their blasphemies on the earth, yet God sitteth in heaven as our judge.
In the following verse, he states more plainly that it was not in vain he besought God to vindicate him from such calumnies; for he was held in derision, not only by the common people, and by the most abandoned of mankind, but also by the chief men, who sat as judges. The term, to sit, imports that they had spoken injuriously and unjustly of him, not merely in their houses and at their tables, but publicly and on the very judgment-seat, where it behooved them to execute justice, and render to every one his due. The particle
24.Also thy testimonies are my delight The particle
25.My soul cleaveth to the dust (409) He means that he had no more hope of life than if he had been shut up in the tomb; and this must be carefully attended to, that we my not become impatient and grieved, whenever it may please God to make us endure various kinds of death. And, by his own example, he instructs us, when death stares us in the face, and all hope of escape fails, to present our petitions to God, in whose hand, as we have elsewhere seen, are the issues of death, and whose peculiar prerogative it is to restore life to those that are dead, (Psalms 68:21) As the combat is hard, he betakes himself to the promises of God, and invites others to do the same. The expression, according to thy word, (410) is an acknowledgment, that should he depart from God’s word, no hope would be left for him; but as God has affirmed that the life of the faithful is in his hand, and under his protection, shut up as he was in the grave, he yet comforted himself with the expectation of life.
(409) The original word for my soul might here, as in verse 28, be translated I myself, or my life, and then, cleaving to the dust may imply an apprehension of approaching death; and this agrees best with the petition. “By dust is here probably meant the sepulchre or grave, as in Psalms 22:15, so that the Psalmist is to be understood to say, ‘The dangers which surround me are such as threaten my death;’ and he immediately adds, ‘Revive me according to thy word,’ i. e. , Make me glad by delivering me from these perils, in agreement with the promises which thou hast given me.” — Walford
(410) Arnobins and Augustine interpret thy word as signifying, in this place, thy promise. See verse 28, and Psalms 44:25.
26.I have declared my ways. In the first part of this verse he affirms he had prayed sincerely, and had not imitated the proud, who, trusting to their own wisdom, fortitude, and opulence, make not God their refuge. That man is said to declare his ways to God, who presumes neither to attempt nor undertake any thing unless with His assistance, and, depending wholly on His providence, commits all his plans to His sovereign pleasure, and centers all his affections in Him; doing all this honestly, and not as the hypocrites, who profess one thing with their lips, and conceal another within their hearts. He adds, that he was heard, which was of great importance in making him cherish good hope for the future.
In the second part of the verse he solemnly declares, that he holds nothing more dear than the acquiring of a true understanding of the law. There are not a few who make known their desires unto God, but then they would that he would yield to their extravagant passions. And, therefore, the prophet affirms that he desires nothing more than to be well instructed in God’s statutes. This statement is strengthened by the next verse, in which he once more asks the knowledge of these to be communicated to him. In both passages it must be carefully observed, that with the law of God set before us, we will reap little benefit from merely perusing it, if we have not his Spirit as our internal teacher.
Some expositors will have the word which I have translated, I will meditate, to be, I will entreat or argue, and thus the Hebrew term
28.My soul droppeth away for grief As a little before he said that his soul cleaved to the dust, so now, almost in the same manner, he complains that it melted away with grief. Some are of opinion that he alludes to tears, as if he had said that his soul was dissolved in tears. But the simpler meaning is, that his strength was poured out like water. The verb is in the future tense, yet it denotes a continued action. The prophet assures himself of a remedy for this his extreme sorrow, provided God stretch out his hand towards him. Formerly, when almost lifeless, he entertained the expectation of a revival through the grace of God; now also, by the same means, he cherishes the hope of being restored to renovated and complete vigor, notwithstanding he was nearly consumed. He repeats the expression, according to thy word, because, apart from his word, God’s power would afford us little comfort. But when he comes to our aid, even should our courage and strength fail, his promise is abundantly efficacious to fortify us.
29.Take away from me the way of falsehood. Knowing how prone the nature of man is to vanity and falsehood, he first asks the sanctification of his thoughts, lest, being entangled by the snares of Satan, he fall into error. Next, that he may be kept from falsehood, he prays to be fortified with the doctrine of the law. The second clause of the verse is interpreted variously. Some render it, make thy law pleasant to me. And as the law is disagreeable to the flesh, which it subdues and keeps under, there is good cause why God should be asked to render it acceptable and pleasant to us. Some expound it, have mercy upon me according to thy law as if the prophet should draw pity from the fountain-head itself, because God in his law promised it to the faithful. Both of these meanings appear to me forced; and, therefore, I am more disposed to adopt another, freely grant to me thy law. The original term,
30.I have chosen the way of truth. In this and the following verse he affirms that he was so disposed as to desire nothing more than to follow righteousness and truth. It is, therefore, with great propriety he employs the term to choose. The old adage, that man’s life is as it were at the point where two ways meet, refers not simply to the general tenor of human life, but to every particular action of it. For no sooner do we undertake any thing, no matter how small, than we are grievously perplexed, and as if hurried off by a tempest, are confounded by conflicting counsels. Hence the prophet declares, that in order constantly to pursue the right path, he had resolved and fully determined not to relinquish the truth. And thus he intimates that he was not entirely exempted from temptations, yet that he had surmounted them by giving himself up to the conscientious observance of the law.
The last clause of the verse, I have set thy judgments before me, relates to the same subject. There would be no fixed choice on the part of the faithful, unless they steadily contemplate the law, and did not suffer their eyes to wander to and fro. In the subsequent verse he not only asserts his entertaining this holy affection for the law, but also combines it with prayer, that he might not become ashamed and enfeebled under the derision of the ungodly, while he gave himself wholly to the law of God. Here he employs the same term as formerly, when he said his soul cleaved to the dust, and, in doing so, affirms he had so firmly taken hold of God’s law, that he cannot be separated from it. From his expressing a fear lest he might be put to shame or overwhelmed with reproach, we learn that the more sincerely a man surrenders himself to God, the more will he be assailed by the tongues of the vile and the venomous.
32I will run the way of thy commandments. The meaning of the prophet is, that when God shall inspire him with love for his la he will be vigorous and ready, nay, even steady, so as not to faint in the middle of his course. His words contain an implied admission of the supineness inability of men to make any advancement in well-doing until God enlarge their hearts. No sooner does God expand their hearts, than they are fitted not only for walking, but also for running in the way of his commandments. He reminds us that the proper observance of the law consists not merely in external works, — that it demands willing obedience, so that the heart must, to some extent, and in some way, enlarge itself. Not that it has the self-determining power of doing this, but when once its hardness and obstinacy are subdued, it moves freely without being any longer contracted by its own narrowness. Finally, this passage tells us, when God has once enlarged our hearts, there will be no lack of power, because, along with proper affection, he will furnish ability, so that our feet will be ready to run.
33.Teach me, O Jehovah/the way of thy statutes. He again presents the same prayer which he has already frequently done in this psalm, it being of the last importance for us to know that the main thing in our life consists in having God for our governor. The majority of mankind think of anything rather than this, as that which they ought to ask from God. The Holy Spirit, therefore, often inculcates this desire, and we ought always to keep it in mind, that not only the inexperienced and unlearned, but those who have made great progress, may not cease to aspire after farther advancement. And as the Spirit of understanding comes from above, they should seek to be guided by his invisible agency to the proper knowledge of the law.
In the second clause of the verse the prophet points out the particular kind of doctrine of which he treats, that which virtually and effectually tends to renovate the heart of man. Interpreters explain the word
34.Make me to understand We are here informed that true wisdom consists in being wise according to the law of God, that it may preserve us in fear and obedience to him. In asking God to confer this wisdom upon him, he owns that men, in consequence of their natural blindness, aim at anything rather than this. And, indeed, it is quite foreign to the notions usually prevalent among mankind to strain every nerve to keep God’s law. The world esteems as wise those only who look well to their own interests, are acute and politic in temporal matters, and who even excel in the art of beguiling the simple. In opposition to such a sentiment, the prophet pronounces men to be void of true understanding as long as the fear of God does not predominate among them. For himself he asks no other prudence than the surrendering of himself entirely to God’s direction. At the same Lime, he acknowledges this to be the special gift of God, which none can procure by his own power or policy; for were each adequate to be his own teacher in this matter, then this petition would be superfluous.
Moreover, as the observance of the law is no common occurrence, he employs two terms in reference to it. “Lord, it is a high and hard thing to keep thy law strictly as it ought, which demands from us purity beyond what we are able to attain; yet, depending on the heavenly illumination of thy Spirit, I will not cease my endeavors to keep it.” The following, however, renders the meaning more clear: “Give me understanding to keep and observe thy law with my whole heart.” Mention is made of the whole heart, to tell us how far they are from the righteousness of the law who obey it only in the letter, doing nothing deserving of blame in the sight of men. God puts a restraint principally on the heart, that genuine uprightness may flourish there, whose fruits may afterwards appear in the life. This spiritual observance of the law is a most convincing evidence of the necessity of being divinely prepared and formed for it.
35.Direct me in the path The frequent repetition of this phraseology by the prophet is not to be considered as redundant. Seeing that the end of man’s existence ought to consist in profiting in God’s school, we nevertheless perceive how the world distracts him by its allurements, and how he also forms for himself a thousand avocations calculated to withdraw his thoughts from the main business of his life. The next clause of the verse, in it I take pleasure, must be carefully attended to. For it is an indication of rare excellence when a person so arranges his sentiments and affections as to renounce all the enticements pleasant to the flesh, and take delight in nothing so much as in the service of God. The prophet had already attained to this virtue but he still perceives that he is not yet perfect. Therefore, that his desire may be fully accomplished, he solicits fresh assistance from God, according to the saying of Paul,
“It is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasures” Philippians 2:13.
Let it be remembered, that he does not boast of the inherent working of his nature, but sets forth the grace he has received, that God may complete the work he has begun. “Lord, thou hast given me courage, grant me also strength.” Hence in the term pleasure there is an implied opposition to the lusts of the flesh, which keep the hearts of mankind lettered by their enticements.
36.Incline my heart In this verse he confesses the human heart to be so far from yielding to the justice of God, that it is more inclined to follow an opposite course. Were we naturally and spontaneously inclined to the righteousness of the law, there would be no occasion for the petition of the Psalmist, Incline my heart It remains, therefore, that our hearts are full of sinful thoughts, and wholly rebellious, until God by his grace change them. This confession on the part of the prophet must not be overlooked, That the natural corruption of man is so great, that he seeks for any thing rather than what is right, until he be turned by the power of God to new obedience, and thus begin to be inclined to that which is good.
In the second clause of the verse the prophet points to those impediments which prevent mankind from attaining to the desire of righteousness; their being inclined to covetousness. By a figure of speech, (412) in which a part is put for the whole, the species is put for the genus. The Hebrew term,
37.Turn away mine eyes. By these words we are taught that all our senses are so filled with vanity, that, until refined and rectified, their alienation from the pursuit of righteousness is no matter of surprise. In the former verse he informed us of the reigning of that depravity in the hearts of men, which he now says reaches also to the outward senses. “The disease of covetousness not only lurks in our hearts, but spreads over every part, so that neither eyes, ears, feet, nor hands, have escaped its baneful influence; in a word, nothing is exempted from corruption.” And we know, assuredly, that the guilt of original sin is not confined to one faculty of man only; it pervades his whole constitution. If our eyes must be turned away from vanity by the special grace of God, it follows, that, as soon as they are opened, they are eagerly set on the impostures of Satan, by which they are beset on all sides. If Satan only laid snares for us, and were we possessed of sufficient prudence to guard against his deceits, it could not, with propriety, be said that God turned away our eyes from vanity; but, as they are naturally set upon sinful allurements, there is need for their being withdrawn from them. As often, then, as we open our eyes, we must not forget that two gates are opened for the devil to enter our hearts, unless God guard us by his Holy Spirit. The remarks which he makes, in reference to the eyes, are equally applicable to the other senses, inasmuch as he again employs that figure of speech, by which a part is taken for the whole.
The other clause of the verse corresponds well with the meaning here given. Others may propose different interpretations; I think, however, the following is the most natural: Lord, as the whole life of mankind is accursed, so long as they employ their powers in committing sin, grant that the power which I possess may aspire after nothing except the righteousness which thou appointest us. The better to manifest this, we must lay it down as a first principle, that seeing, hearing, walking, and feeling, are God’s precious gifts; that our understandings and will, with which we are furnished, are a still more valuable gift; and, after all, there is no look of the eyes, no motion of the senses, no thought of the mind, unmingled with vice and depravity. Such being the case, the prophet, with good reason, surrenders himself entirely to God, for the mortification of the flesh, that he might begin to live anew.
38.Confirm thy word unto thy servant. Here we have briefly set forth the sole end and legitimate use of prayer, which is, that we may reap the fruits of God’s promises. Whence it comes to pass, that they commit sin who utter vague and incoherent desires. For we perceive the prophet allows not himself to petition or wish any thing but what God hath condescended to promise. And certainly their presumption is great, who rush into the presence of God without any call from his word; as if they would make him subservient to their humor and caprice. The argument by which the Psalmist enforces his plea deserves to be noticed; because I am devoted to thy fear. The relative
39.Take away my reproach. It is not certain to what reproach he alludes. Knowing that many calumniators were on the watch to find occasion for reviling him, should they happen to detect him in any offense, it is not without reason he dreaded lest he might fall into such disgrace, and that by his own fault. Probably he might be apprehensive of some other reproach, aware that wicked men shamefully and injuriously slander the good generally, and, by their calumnies, distort and pervert their good actions. The concluding clause, Because the judgments of God are good, is the reason why God should put to silence the mischievous tongues, which pour out the venom of their malice without shame against the innocent, who are reverently observing his law. If any be inclined to view the word reproach as directed against God himself, such an interpretation is by no means objectionable, That the prophet, whose aim it was to stand approved as to his life in God’s sight, merely desired, when he appeared before his tribunal, not to be judged as a reprobate man; just as if, with great zeal and magnanimity, he would despise all the empty talk of the men of the world, provided he stood upright in God’s sight. Above all, it becomes holy men to dread the reproach of being suffused with shame at God’s judgment-seat.
40.Behold, I have a desire to thy precepts This is a repetition of what he declared a little before, with regard to his pious affection, and his love of righteousness; and that nothing was wanting but God to complete the work which he had commenced. If this interpretation be admitted, then, to be quickened in the righteousness of God, will be tantamount to being quickened in the way. The term righteousness is often put in this psalm for the law of God, or the rule of a righteous life. This view tends to make the two parts of the verse accord with one another. “Lord, this is now a remarkable kindness thou hast done me, in having inspired me with a holy desire to keep thy law; one thing is still necessary, that this same virtue pervade my whole life.” But as the word righteousness is ambiguous, my readers may, if they choose, understand it thus: Restore, defend, and maintain me for the sake of thy goodness, which thou art wont to show to all thy people. I have already pointed out the exposition which I prefer.
41.Let thy mercies come to me There can be no doubt, that, in mentioning the mercy of God first, and afterwards his salvation, the Psalmist, according to the natural order, puts the cause before the effect. By adopting this arrangement, he acknowledges that there is no salvation for him but in the pure mercy of God. And while he desires a gracious salvation, he, at the same time, relies on the promise, as we have already elsewhere seen.
In the second verse he boasts that he is furnished with the best defense against the calumnies of his enemies, arising from his trust in the word of God. We may resolve the future tense into the optative mood, as many do: O Lord, since I have trusted in thy word, grant that my mouth with all boldness may repel the slanders which they utter against me, and suffer me not to be silent when they load me with unmerited reproach.” Whichever of these meanings we adopt, we are taught that there will always be evil-speakers, who will not cease to defame the children of God, though they be entirely undeserving of such treatment. It is somewhat dubious to what particular kind of reproach he refers; for the ungodly not only cover the children of God with ignominy, but also make their faith the subject of ridicule. I prefer the following interpretation, because it agrees best with the context, and David is here placing his trust in God in opposition to their derision. “I shall have something to reply to the base mockery of the enemies who injure me without cause, in that God never disappoints those who place their confidence in him.” If any one be inclined to consider the passage as embracing both meanings, I offer no objection to it. Besides, he does not simply say, that he trusted in God, but that he also trusted in his word, which is the ground of his trust. We must carefully attend to the correspondence and mutual relation between the term word, in the first part of the verse, and that in the other. Were not God, by his Word, to furnish us with another word for our defense, we would instantly be overwhelmed with the insolence of our enemies. If, then, we wish to be proof against the attacks of the world, the commencement and foundation of our magnanimity is here pointed out to us, — our trusting in God’s word, guarded by which, the Spirit of God calls upon us boldly to contemn the virulent blasphemies of the ungodly. And to qualify us for repelling such blasphemies, he connects the word of hope with the word of confession.
43.Take not the word of truth too long out of my mouth (414) It may be asked, why he demands rather to have his tongue filled with, than his heart fortified by, the word of truth; inasmuch as the latter takes the precedence, both in point of order and of excellence. What will it profit us to be fluent and eloquent in speech, if our hearts are destitute of faith? On the other hand, wherever there is firm faith, there to speech will flow ultroneously. My reply is, that David was not so concerned about outward confession as not to give the preference to the faith of the heart; but considering that he is making his address to God, there is nothing strange in his making mention only of the former, under which, however, he includes also the latter. “Lord, support not only my heart by faith, lest I be overwhelmed with temptation, but grant me also freedom of speech, that I may fearlessly sound forth thy praises among men.” We observe, when he asks to be endued with boldness of speech, that he begins with the heart.
It may be farther inquired here, why he says too long, just as if he were not afraid of being deprived of the word of truth for a short time. Such a supposition were most absurd, seeing we must watch every moment lest we be overtaken by the enemy, when we are unarmed and powerless. The solution of this difficulty must be drawn from our own experience; for in this, the infirmity of our flesh, it is almost impossible but that, occasionally, even the stoutest heart will quail under the violent assaults of Satan. And although their faith fails not, yet it shakes, and they do not find such presence of mind, as that there is constantly a uniform train of speech, and a prompt reply to the derision’s of the ungodly; but, on the contrary, they rather begin to stagger and quake for a short time. Conscious of this weakness, which is perceptible in all mankind, he accommodates his prayer in the following manner: “Though I am not always prepared with that boldness of speech which is desirable, suffer me not to continue long silent.” By this language the prophet tacitly admits, that he had not been so steadfast and bold as was requisite, but that he was, as it were, struck speechless by reason of fear. Whence we may learn, that the faculty of speaking freely is no more in our power than are the affections. of the heart. As far, then, as God directs our tongues, they are prepared for ready utterance; but no sooner does he withdraw the spirit of magnanimity, than not only our hearts faint, or rather fail, but also our tongues become mute. The cause of this is subjoined in these words, for I have waited for thy judgments for so he literally expresses himself. From which we conclude, that judgments refer not merely to the precepts of the law, but also to the promises, which constitute the true foundation of our confidence. Some render it, I was afraid of thy. judgments, deriving the word here employed from the root
(414) “O take not, etc. This verse seems to admit of either of the two following interpretations: ‘Suffer me not to desist utterly from making an open profession of true religion; for I wait for thy promises:’ or, ‘Suffer me not to be reproached with falsehood, (for having asserted that thou wouldest take vengeance on the wicked,) because I have looked for thy judgments,’i. e. , thy penal judgments. Calvin favors the former interpretation, the latter is Le Clerc’s.” — Cresswell. Walford, by word, understands the answer that the Psalmist had to make to the accusations of his enemies: and observes, “This answer, which asserted his innocence of the crimes with which they charged him, he declares to be altogether true; and he entreats that God, as a judge, would not suffer him to be deprived of the benefit of that answer, but pronounce a righteous sentence between them.”
44.I will keep thy law continually He resolves to devote himself to the study of the law, not for a short time only, but even to the termination of his life. The employing of three synonymous words,
The next verse may be read as expressing a desire that he might walk. Be this as it may, we retain the commonly received reading, That David exults at the thought of his path becoming plain and easy, in consequence of his seeking diligently after God’s precepts; that is, to walk at ease The ways of men are frequently rugged and obstructed, because they themselves lay various stumblingblocks in them, or entangle themselves in many inextricable windings. Hence it comes to pass, that while none will submit to the word of God as their rule, every man endures the punishment legitimately due to such arrogance. On all sides God lays snares for us, puts pitfalls in our way, causes us to fall in with paths broken and rugged, and at last shuts us up in a bottomless pit: and by how much the more politic a mart is, by so much the more will he meet with obstructions in his path.
This verse teaches us that, if any man yield implicit obedience to God, he will receive this as his reward, that he shall walk with a calm and composed mind; and should he meet with difficulties, he will find the means of surmounting them. The faithful, however readily and submissively they give themselves up to God, may happen to find themselves involved in perplexity; nevertheless, the end contemplated by Paul is accomplished, that though they be in trouble and toil, yet they do not continue in irremediable distress, because it is the duty (so to speak) of God to point out a way for them where there seems to be no way, (2 Corinthians 4:8.) Moreover, when grievously oppressed, even then they walk at ease, for they commit the doubtful issue of events to God in such a manner, that, having him for their guide, they have no doubt they will come out boldly from the depths of distress.
46.And I will steal, of thy testimonies before kings (415) In these words he seems to believe that he is in possession of that which he formerly prayed for. Having said, “Take not away the word out of my mouths” and now, as if he had obtained what he requested, he rises up, and maintains he will not be dumb, even were he called upon to speak in the presence of kings. There can be no question that he affirms he would willingly stand forward in vindication of the glory of God in the face of the whole world. He selects kings, who are generally more to be dreaded than other men, and haughtily shut the mouths of God’s witnesses. Sometimes, indeed, it happens we will not hold out even in the presence of men in the humblest ranks of life. The moment a man sets himself in opposition to the word of God, we instinctively shrink back from fear; and that boldness of speech, of which we boasted at first, instantly disappears: but our want of courage is most palpable when we are summoned before the thrones of kings. And this is the reason why David asserts, that he will not only hold out against enemies among the meanest of men, but also will remain firm and fearless before kings. These words inform us that we have profited well and truly by God’s word, when our hearts are so completely fortified against the fear of man, that we do not dread the presence of kings, even though all the world attempts; to fill us with dejection and dismay. It is most unbecoming that God’s glory should be obscured by their empty splendor.
(415) “Dr Delaney supposes that this is spoken in reference to Achish, king of Gath, whom David had instructed in the Jewish religion: but we have already seen that it is most likely that the psalm was compiled under the Babylonish captivity. But the words may, with more propriety, be referred to the case of Daniel, and other bold and faithful Israelites, who spoke courageously before Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius. See the Books of Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah.” — Dr Adam Clarke.
47.And I will delight myself The sentiment contained in this verse is similar to that which he had previously mentioned. The amount is, he held the commandments of God in such high esteem, that he experienced nothing more pleasant to him than the making of them his constant theme of meditation. By the term delight, he expresses the intensity of his love. The phrase I will lift up my hands, refers, to the same thing. It is a sure indication that we eagerly desire a thing when we stretch out the hands to grasp and enjoy it. This simile, therefor denotes the ardor of his desire. (416) If a man, by his mien and gait pretend any such affection for the law of God, and yet pay no regard to it in the affairs of life, he would be justly chargeable with the basest hypocrisy. Again, he affirms, that that affection, so earnest and so ardent, springs from the sweetness of the law of God having knit our hearts to it. Finally, he says, he would meditate on God’s testimonies. Along with the majority of commentators, I have no doubt that the word
(416) “The lifting up of the hands is used in Scripture to denote, first, praying, (Psalms 28:2; Lamentations 2:19; 1 Timothy 2:8;) secondly, blessing, (Leviticus 19:22; Psalms 22:4;) thirdly, swearing, (Genesis 14:22; Deuteronomy 32:40; Psalms 106:26; Ezekiel 36:7; Revelation 10:5;) fourthly, setting about any undertaking, (Genesis 41:44; Psalms 10:13; Hebrews 12:12) Aben Ezra, however, explains, (and perhaps rightly,) that the metaphor, in this place, is taken from the action of those who receive any one whom they were glad or proud to see with uplifted hands.” — Cresswell. Merrick explains the phrase thus: “I will reach out my hands with eagerness, in order to receive thy commandments.”
49.Remember thy word. He prays that God would really perform what he promised; for the event proves that he does not forget his word. That he is speaking of the promises we infer from the end of the verse, in which he declares, that cause was given him to hope, for which there would be no place unless grace had been presented to him. In the second verse he asserts, that though God still kept him in suspense, yet he reposed with confidence in his word. At the same time he informs us, that during his troubles and anxieties, he did not search after vain consolation as the world is wont to do who look around them in all quarters to find something to mitigate their miseries; and if any allurements tickle their fancy, they make use of these as a remedy for alleviating their sorrows. On the contrary, the prophet says he was satisfied with the word of God itself; and that when all other refuges failed him, there he found life full and perfect; nevertheless, he covertly confesses, that if he do not acquire courage from the word of God, he will become like a dead man. The ungodly may sometimes experience elevation of spirit during their miseries, but they are totally destitute of this inward strength of mind. The prophet, then, had good reason for stating, that in the time of affliction the faithful experience animation and rigor solely from the word of God inspiring them with life,. Hence, if we meditate carefully on his word, we shall live even in the midst of death, nor will we meet with any sorrow so heavy for which it will not furnish us with a remedy. And if we are bereft of consolation and succor in our adversities, the blame must rest with ourselves; because, despising or overlooking the word of God, we purposely deceive ourselves with vain consolation.
51.The proud have greatly scorned me This example is eminently useful, as it serves to inform us, that though our honesty may render us obnoxious to the insults of the ungodly, we ought, by our unflinching constancy, to repel their pride, lest we should take a dislike to the law of God. Many who, in other respects, would be disposed to fear God, yield to this temptation. The earth has always been filled with the impious contemners of God, and at this day it is almost overrun with them. Wherefore, if we do not disregard their reviling, there will be no stability in our faith. In calling unbelievers proud, he applies to them a very appropriate designation: for their wisdom consists in despising God, lightly esteeming his judgments, trampling all piety under foot, and, in short, pouring contempt upon the celestial kingdom. Were they not blinded with pride, they would not follow such a headlong course. We must interpret the words in this manner: Though the proud have treated me with scorn, I have not turned aside from thy law. We must not overlook the,, particle very much, or greatly, which imports, that he was harassed, not merely occasionally or for a short time, by the ungodly, but that the attack was continued from day to day. Let us learn from these words, that the wicked, in consequence of their forming the great majority of mankind, arrogate to themselves the greater liberty. The number of the godly who worship God reverently is always small. Hence we must hold out against a large troop and rabble of the impious if we would maintain our integrity.
52.I called to mind thy judgments of old, O Jehovah! In this psalm, the judgments of God are generally taken for his statutes and decrees, that is, his righteousness. (417) In this place, in consequence of the qualifying phrase, of old, it is more probable that they refer to the examples by which God has made himself known as the righteous Judge of the world. Why does he say that the law of God has been from everlasting? This may to some extent be accounted for from the righteousness here mentioned not being of recent growth, but truly everlasting, because the written law is just an attestation of the law of nature, through means of which God recalls to our memory that which he has previously engraved on our hearts.
I am rather inclined to adopt another interpretation, That David remembered the judgments of God, by which he testified that he had established his law perpetually in the world, Such a settlement is very necessary for us; because, when God does not make bare his arm, his word frequently produces little impression. But when he takes vengeance upon the ungodly, he confirms what he had spoken; and this is the reason why in civil law penalties are called confirmations. The term accords better with God’s judgments, by which he establishes the authority of his law, as if a true demonstration accompanied his words. And seeing he declares that he called to mind the most ancient of God’s judgments, it becomes us to learn, that if his judgments are not displayed as frequently as we would desire, for the strengthening of our faith, this is owing to our ingratitude and apathy; for in no past age have there been wanting clear demonstrations for this very purpose; and thus it may with truth be affirmed, that God’s judgments have flowed in one continued manner from age to age, and that the reason why we have not perceived them is, our not deigning to open our eyes to behold them. If any one object, that it is contrary to the nature of his judgments to afford consolation to because they are calculated rather to strike us with terror, the answer is at handy — that the faithful are made to tremble for fear of God’s judgments, as far as is requisite for the mortification of their flesh. On the other hand, these supply them with a large source of consolation, from the fact of their learning from them, that God exercises his superintending providence over the human race. Farther, they learn, that after the wicked have reveled in licentiousness for a season, they shall at length be sisted before the judgment-seat of God; but that they themselves, after having patiently combated under such a Guardian of their welfare, can be in no doubt about their preservation.
(417) “The Scriptures, like a true mirror, display the justice of God, in the punishment of sinners, and his goodness, in rendering righteousness.” — Dimock.
53.Terror seized me (418) This verse may be understood in two senses; either that the prophet was grievously afflicted when he saw God’s law violated by the wicked, or that he was horror-struck at the thought of their perdition. Some would render it ardor, which does not so properly agree with the nature of the passage; I therefore abide by the termfear, by which I think his ardent zeal is pointed out, in that he was not only deeply grieved at the transgressions of the law, but held in the utmost detestation the impious boldness of those who lightly esteemed the law of God. At the same time, it is worthy of notice, that it is no new ground of offense to the faithful, if numbers throw off God’s yoke, and set up the standard of rebellion against him. This, I repeat, must be attended to, because many derive flimsy and frivolous pretexts for it, from the degeneracy of the age, as if they must needs howl while they live among wolves. In the days of David, we see there were many who apostatized from the faith, and yet, so far was he from being discouraged or dismayed by these things, that the fear of God rather kindled a holy indignation in his bosom. What is to be done, then, when surrounded by bad examples, but that we should vie with each other in holding them up to detestation? And here a contrast, if not directly stated, is implied, between the flattering unction which we apply to ourselves, believing that all is lawful which is common, and the horror with which the prophet tells us he was seized. If the wicked, haughtily and without restraint, set themselves in opposition to God, in consequence of our not being alive to his judgments, we convert that into an occasion of perverse confidence and insensibility. On the contrary, the prophet asserts that he was seized with horror, because, though he considered the long-suffering of God, on the one hand, yet, on the other, he was fully persuaded that he must, sooner or later, call for condign punishment.
(418) The Hebrew word here used for terror is
54.Thy statutes have been my songs. (419) He repeats in different words what he had formerly mentioned, that the law of God was his sole or special delight during all his life. Singing is an indication of joy. The saints are pilgrims in this world, and must be regarded as God’s children and heirs of heaven, from the fact that they are sojourners on earth. By the house of their pilgrimage, then, may be understood their journey through life. One circumstance merits particular notice, that David, during his exile from his native country, ceased not to draw consolation, amid all his hardships, from the law of God, or rather a joy which rose above all the sadness which his banishment occasioned to him. It was a noble specimen of rare virtue, that when he was denied a sight of the temple, could not draw near to the sacrifices, and was deprived of the ordinances of religion, he yet never departed from his God. The phrase, the house of his pilgrimage, is employed, therefore, to enhance the conduct of David, who, when banished from his country, still retained the law of God deeply engraved on his heart, and who, amid the severity of that exile, which was calculated to deject his spirits, cheered himself by meditating upon the law of God.
(419) “In the early ages, it was customary to versify the laws, that the people might learn them by heart, and sing them.” — Williams.
55.By night I remembered thy name, O Jehovah! As the second clause of the verse depends on the first, I consider the whole verse as setting forth one and the same truth; and, therefore, the prophet means that he was induced, by the remembrance he had of God, to keep the law. Contempt of the law originates in this, that few have any regard for God; and hence, the Scripture, in condemning the impiety of men, declares that they have forgotten God, (Psalms 50:22 ; 78:11; 106:21). To rectify this, David exhorts that the remembrance of God is the only remedy for preserving us hi his fear, and in the observance of his law; and assuredly, as often as his majesty occurs to our minds, it will tend to humble us, and the very thought of it will provoke us to the cultivation of godliness. The word night is not intended by him to mean the remembering of God merely for, short time, but a perpetual remembrance of him; he, however, refers to that season in particular, because then almost all our senses are overpowered with sleep. “When other men are sleeping, God occurs to my thoughts during my sleep.” He has another reason for alluding to the night-season, That we may be apprised, that though there was none to observe him, and none to put him in remembrance of it, — yea, though he was shrouded in darkness, — yet he was as solicitous to cherish the remembrance of God, as if’ he occupied the most public and conspicuous place.
56.This was done to me. I doubt not that the prophet, under the term
57.Thou art my portion, O Jehovah! The meaning of this clause is doubtful, because the term Jehovah may be rendered either in the nominative or vocative case, and the phrase, I have said, may relate either to the former or latter part of the verse. One lection then is, Jehovah is my portion, and, therefore, I have resolved to observe thy law. Another is, O God! who art my portion, I have resolved to observe thy law. A third is, I have said, or have resolved, that God is my portion, in order to observe his law. A fourth is, I have said, or have resolved, O Lord! that my portion is to observe thy law; and this is the reading of which I approve. The following interpretation is quite applicable, That God being our portion, ought to animate and encourage us to observe his law. We have already noticed in several other passages, that God is denominated the heritage of the faithful, because he alone is sufficient for their full and entire happiness. And seeing he has chosen us for his peculiar possession, it is only reasonable on our part, that we should rest satisfied with him alone; and if we do this, our hearts will also be disposed to keep his law and, renouncing all the lusts of the flesh, our supreme delight, and firm resolution, will be to continue in the same.
I have already said, that this exposition is not inconsistent with the scope of the passage, and that it furnishes a very useful doctrine. But the last and fourth reading, of which I remarked I approved, is more simple, — I am fully persuaded that my best portion consists in keeping God’s law; — and this accords with the saying of Paul, “Godliness is the best gain,” (1 Timothy 6:6). David here draws a comparison between the keeping of the law, and the imaginary good which captivates the ambition of mankind. “Let every one covet what seems to him good, and revel in his own pleasures; I have no ground to envy them, provided I retain this as my portion, the complete surrender of myself to the word of God.”
58.I have earnestly besought thy face. In this verse David asserts, that he still persevered in the exercise of prayer; for without prayer faith would become languid and lifeless. The manner in which he expresses himself, which, in other languages, might be unpolished, among the Hebrews, expresses that familiar communication to which God admits, and even invites his servants when they come into his presence. The substance of his prayers, and the sum of his desires, he comprehends in a single sentence; namely, that he implored the mercy of God, the sure hope of which he had formed from his word. Let us observe, then, in the first place, we are aroused from our supineness, that we may exercise our faith by prayer. In the second place, the principal thing for which we ought to pray is, that God, out of his free grace, may be favorable to us, look on our affection, and grant us relief. God does, indeed, aid us in a variety of ways, and our necessities also are innumerable; still the thing which we must principally and particularly request is, that he: will have mercy upon us, which is the source of every other blessing. And, in the last place, that we may not present prayers that have no meaning, let us learn that God, in all his promises, is set before us as if he were our willing debtor.
59.I thought upon my ways (421) The amount is, that after the prophet had paid due regard to his manner of life, his only aim then was to follow the teaching of the law. In these words he intimates indirectly, that if it be inquired why men go astray, and are miserably distracted amidst conflicting impulses, the reason is, their thoughtlessly indulging themselves in the gratification of their passions. Every man watches most carefully, and applies all his energy to whatever his inclination may lead him, but all are blind in choosing the object which they ought to pursue; or rather, as if their eyes were sealed, they are either hurried away inconsiderately, or else, through carelessness, wander imperceptibly from one object to another. One thing is certain, that there is no one who carefully considers his ways; and, therefore, it is not without reason the prophet exhorts us, that the commencement of a godly life consists in men awaking from their lethargy, examining their ways, and, at last, wisely considering what it is to regulate their conduct properly. He next instructs us, that when a person is inclined in good earnest to frame the course of his life well, there is nothing better than for him to follow the direction which the Lord points out. In fact, were not men infatuated, they would universally and unanimously make choice of God to be the guide of their life.
(421) “I thought on my ways
60.I made haste Though the words are in the past tense, they denote a continued act. The prophet declares with what promptitude he dedicated himself to the service of God. Diligence and dispatch demonstrate the favor of his zeal. Next, in saying that he delayed not, (422) this, according to the Hebrew idiom, gives intensity to the idea conveyed by the phrase, I made haste As among the Hebrews, to speak and not to keep silence is equivalent to speaking freely, unreservedly, and without dissimulation, as the occasion demands, so to make haste and not delay is to run quickly without doubt or delay. If we reflect on our own listlessness, and on the snares which Satan never fails to put in our way, we will at once perceive that these words are not added in vain. For let a man be ever so desirous of applying himself truly and heartily to the righteousness of God, yet, according to Paul, we know that “ he does not the thing that he would,” (Romans 7:15). Although no outward obstacle may stand in our way, yet we are so retarded by impediments within, that nothing is more difficult than to make haste to keep the law of God. At the same time we must remember, that the prophet is here speaking comparatively in reference to those who are chargeable with procrastination during the greater part of their life, and who draw near to God, not only hesitatingly and tardily, but also purposely loiter in their course, or else prevent themselves from coming by their tortuous ways. The prophet did not manifest more alacrity in serving God than Paul; all he intends, therefore, is, that having surmounted all obstacles which lay in his way, he prosecuted his journey with rapidity. And by his example he teaches us, that the pleas which we offer in extenuation of our indolence, either arising from the impediments presented by the world or our own infirmity, are vain and frivolous.
(422) “The original word, which we translate delayed not, is amazingly emphatical.
61.The cords of the wicked have caught hold of me. Those who translate
(423) “The congregation of the ungodly have robbed me. — Common Prayer Book. Rather the cords of the wicked have unfolded me; i. e. , their machinations have been directed against me, and not without effect. A cord, however, from its being composed of many strings twisted together, was used metaphorically by the Hebrews, as, the word band is by us, to denote a collection of men: and it is accordingly, in 1 Samuel 10:5, rendered in our English Bible by company, in which sense it is here taken in the version of our Book of Common Prayer, after the Chaldee: the Septuagint gives the literal translation of the word.” — Cresswell.
62I will rise at midnight to praise thee In this verse he shows not only that he approved and embraced with his whole heart whatever the Divine law contains, but that he also gave evidence of his gratitude to God for having made him partaker of so great a blessing. It seems to be quite a common thing professedly to assent to God when he teaches us by his law; for who would dare to lift up his voice against Him? But still the world is very far from acknowledging that the truth which he has revealed is in all respects reasonable. In the first place, such is the rebellion of our corrupt nature, that every man would have somewhat either altered or taken away. Again, if men had their choice, they would rather be governed by their own will than by the word of God. In short, human reason, as well as human passions, is widely at variance with the Divine law. He then has profited not little, who both obediently embraces revealed truth, and, taking sweet delight in it, gives thanks to God for it. The prophet, however, does not simply declare that he magnifies God’s righteous judgments; he also affirms that he rose at midnight to do so, by which he expresses the earnestness of his desire; for the studies and cares which break our sleep necessarily imply great earnestness of soul. He also, at the same time, intimates, that in bearing his testimony in behalf of the Divine law, he was far from being influenced by ostentation, since in his secret retirement, when no human eye was upon him, he pronounced the highest encomiums on God’s righteous judgments.
63.I am a companion to all those who fear thee He does not simply speak of the brotherly love and concord which true believers cultivate among themselves, but intimates that, whenever he met with any individual who feared God, he gave him his hand in token of fellowship, and that he was not only one of the number of God’s servants, but also their helper. Such concord is undoubtedly required in all the godly, that they may contribute to each other’s advancement in the fear of God. There seems to be a tacit comparison between this holy combination, by which the faithful mutually keep up and foster among themselves the worship of God and true godliness, and the impious associations which prevail every where in the world. We see how worldly men array their troops against God, and assist one another in their attempts to overthrow his worship. The more then is it necessary for the children of God to be stirred up to the maintenance of a holy unity. The Psalmist commends the faithful, first, for their fearing God, and, secondly, for their observing the law. The fear of God is the root or origin of all righteousness, and by dedicating our life to His service, we manifest that His fear dwells in our hearts.
64.O Jehovah! the earth is full of thy mercy Here the prophet beseeches God, in the exercise of his infinite goodness, which is reflected in every part of the world, graciously to make him a partaker of the treasure of heavenly wisdom — a manner of prayer which is very emphatic. When, therefore, he says that the earth is full of God’s mercy, it is a kind of earnest entreaty. He not only magnifies the goodness of God, in general, (as he does in other places,) in leaving no part of the world devoid of the proofs of his liberality, and in exercising it not only towards mankind, but also towards the brute creation. What does he then? He desires that the mercy of God, which is extended to all creatures, may be manifested towards him in one thing, and that is, by enabling him to make progress in the knowledge of the Divine law. Whence we gather, that he accounted the gift of understanding as an inestimable treasure. No if to be endued with the spirit of understanding is a chief token of God’s favor, our want of this, proceeding from our own unbelief, is an indication of our alienation from him. It behooves us to remember what we have stated elsewhere, that it is an evidence that we have given ourselves up to the most shameful sloth, when, contented with a superficial knowledge of Divine truth, we are, in a great measure, indifferent about making further progress, seeing so renowned a teacher of the Church labored with the greatest ardor to become more and more acquainted with God’s statutes. Besides, it is certain that he does not here treat of external teaching, but of the inward illumination of the mind, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The law was exhibited to all without distinction; but the prophet, well aware that unless he were enlightened by the Holy Spirit, it would be of little advantage to him, prays that he may be taught effectually by supernatural influence.
65.O Jehovah! thou hast done good to thy servant. Some understand this generally, as if the prophet protested that, in whatever way God dealt with him, he took it in good part, convinced that it would ultimately issue in his welfare; but as express mention is made of the Divine word or promise, the prophet, I have no doubt, celebrates the faithfulness of God in performing the grace which he had promised. I have really experienced (as if he had said) that Thou art true, and dost not delude thy servants with empty words. Special reference is therefore here made to God’s promises, because thence all his benefits flow to us, not, indeed, as from the original fountain-head, but, as it were, by conduit pipes. Although his free goodness is the only cause which induces him to deal bountifully with us, yet we can hope for nothing at his hand until he first bring himself under obligation to us by his word.
66.Teach me goodness of taste and acknowledge After having confessed that he had found, by experience, the faithfulness of God to his promises, David here adds a request similar to what is contained in the 64th verse, namely, that he may grow in right understanding; although the phraseology is somewhat different; for instead of thy statutes, as in that verse, he here uses goodness of taste and knowledge. As the verb
67.Before I was brought low I went astray As the verb
The next verse needs no explanation, being nearly of the same import as the last verse of the former eight. He beseeches God to exercise his goodness towards him, not by causing him to increase in riches and honors, or to abound in pleasures, but by enabling him to make progress in the knowledge of the law. It is usual for almost all mankind to implore the exercise of God’s goodness towards them, and to desire that he would deal bountifully with them, in the way of gratifying the diversity of the desires into which they are severally hurried by the inclinations of the flesh; but David protests that he would be completely satisfied, provided he experienced God to be liberal towards him in this one particular, which almost all men pass over with disdain.
69.The proud have weaved (424) lies against me He declares that, notwithstanding the malignant interpretation which the wicked put upon all that he did, and their attempts, by this artifice, to turn him aside from following after and loving uprightness, the state of his mind remained unaltered. It is a severe temptation, when, although innocent, we are loaded with reproach and infamy, and are not only assailed by injurious words, but also held up to the odium of the world by wicked persons, under some specious pretense or other. We see many who otherwise are good people, and inclined to live uprightly, either become discouraged, or are greatly shaken, when they find themselves so unworthily rewarded. On this account the prophet’s example is the more to be attended t that we may not be appalled by the malignity of men; that we may not cease to nourish within us the fear of God, even when they may have succeeded in destroying our reputation in the sight of our fellow-creatures; and that we may be contented to have our piety shining at the judgment-scat of God, although it may be defaced by the calumnies of men. So long as we depend upon the judgment of men, we will always be in a state of fluctuation, as has been already observed. Farther, let our works be never so splendid, we know that they will be of no account in the sight of God, if, in performing them, our object is to gain the favor of the world. Let us therefore learn to cast our eyes to that heavenly stage, and to despise all the malicious reports which men may spread against us. Let us leave the children of this world to, enjoy their reward, since our crown is laid up for us in heaven, and not on the earth. Let us disentangle ourselves from the snares with which Satan endeavors to obstruct us, by patiently bearing infamy for a season. The verb
With this corresponds the statement in the subsequent verse (70th) that their heart is fat as grease, (425) — a vice too common among the despisers of God. Whence is it that wicked men, whom their own conscience gnaws within, vaunt themselves so insolently against the most eminent servants of God, but because a certain grossness overgrows their hearts, so that they are stupefied, and even frenzied by their own obstinacy? But wonderful and worthy of the highest praise is the magnanimity of the prophet, who found all his delight in the law of God: it is as if he declared that this was the food on which he fed, and with which he was refreshed in the highest degree; which could not have been the case had not his heart been freed, and thoroughly cleansed from all unhallowed pleasures.
(424) Archbishop Secker reads, “made up.” “It signifies,” says he, “fastening things together.”
(425) The fat of the human body, as physiologists inform us, is absolutely insensible; the lean membranous parts being those only which are sensitive. Accordingly, fatness of heart is used, with much propriety, to express the insensibility, stupidity, or sensuality of those feelings or affections of which the heart is considered the seat.
71.It has been good for me that I was afflicted. He here confirms the sentiment which we have previously considered — that it was profitable to him to be subdued by God’s chastisements, that he might more and more be brought back and softened to obedience. By these words he confesses that he was not exempt from the perverse obstinacy with which all mankind are infected; for, had it been otherwise with him, the profit of which he speaks, when he says that his docility was owing to his being brought low, would have been merely pretended; even as none of us willingly submits his neck to God, until He soften our natural hardness by the strokes of a hammer. It is good for us to taste continually the fruit which comes to us from God’s corrections, that they may become sweet to us; and that, in this way, we, who are so rebellious and wayward, may suffer ourselves to be brought into subjection.
The last verse also requires no exposition, as it contains a sentiment of very frequent occurrence in this psalm, and, in itself, sufficiently plain, — That he preferred God’s law to all the riches of the world, the immoderate desire of which so deplorably infatuates the great bulk of mankind. He does not compare the law of God with the riches he himself possessed; but he affirms, that it was more precious in his estimation than a vast inheritance.
73.Thy hands have made and fashioned me. The avowal of the prophet, that he had been created by the hand of God, greatly contributed to inspire him with the hope of obtaining the favor which he supplicates. As we are the creatures and the workmanship of God, and as he has not only bestowed upon us vital motion, in common with the lower animals, but has, in addition thereto, given us the light of understanding and reasons — this encourages us to pray that he would direct us to the obedience of his law. And yet the prophet does not call upon God, as if He were under any obligations to him; but, knowing that God never forsakes the work which he has begun, he simply asks for new grace, by which God may carry on to perfection what he has commenced. We have need of the assistance of the law, since all that is sound in our understandings is corrupted; so that we cannot perceive what is right, unless we are taught from some other source. But our blindness and stupidity are still more strikingly manifest, from the fact that teaching will avail us nothing, until our souls are renewed by Divine grace. What I have previously said must be borne in mind.. That whenever the prophet prays for understanding being imparted to him, in order to his learning the Divine commandments, he condemns both himself and all mankind as in a state of blindness; for which the only remedy is the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
74.They who fear thee shall see me and be glad. This verse is either connected with the preceding, or it includes other benefits of God, besides the blessing mentioned in that verse. Whether the Psalmist adverts only to one particular species of blessing, or speaks generally, he by these words highly extols the benefits with which God had honored him, that all genuine saints in common might experience joy on that account. He does not mean to say that this joy proceeds solely from the trust which he reposed in God, but that it also proceeds from this, — that, having been preserved by him in a remarkable way, and loaded with many benefits, his hope had received an ample reward. As God invites all his servants in common to trust in him, it follows, that, whenever he exhibits a token of his grace towards any one of them, he testifies to all that he is faithful to his promises, and that they have no reason to be afraid of his disappointing those who trust in him.
75I have known, O Jehovah / that thy judgments are justice. By judgments, in this psalm, we are to understand the precepts of the law; but as the prophet immediately adds, that he was justly chastised, he seems to use the word in this verse, for the punishments by which God stirs up men to repentance. These two words,
76I beseech thee let thy goodness be for my consolation. Although he has acknowledged that he had been justly humbled, yet he desires that his sorrow may be alleviated by some consolation. He implores God’s mercy, as what was essentially necessary to relieve and cure his miseries. He thus shows that nothing can remove sorrow from the faithful, until they feel that God is reconciled to them. In the Word in which God offers his mercy, there is to be found no small comfort for healing all the grief to which men are liable. But the Psalmist is now speaking of actual mercy, if I may use that term, when God by the very deed declares the favor which he has promised. Confiding in the Divine promise, he already cherished in his heart a joy, proceeding from the hope of receiving the communications of Divine grace. But as all our hope would end in mere disappointment, did not God at length appear as our deliverer, he requests the performance of that which God had promised him. Lord, as if he had said, since thou hast graciously promised to be ready to succor me, be pleased to make good thy word in effect. The observation which I have previously made ought to be remembered, That it is not in vain to remind God of his promise. It would be presumption for men to come into His presence, did he not, of his own mere good pleasure, open up the way for them. When the Psalmist says, to thy servant, he does not claim God’s mercy exclusively to himself, as if it had. been promised to him alone by some special oracle; but he applies to himself what God has promised to the whole Church, which it is the peculiar province of faith to do; for unless I believe that I am one of those to whom God addresses himself in his word, so that his promises belong to me in common with others, I will never have the confidence to call upon him.
77.Let thy companions come unto me. In this verse, the Psalmist repeats and confirms almost the same request as in the preceding verse, although in phraseology somewhat different. As he had just now said, that his sorrow could not be removed, nor his joy restored, in any other way than by God’s mercy being exercised towards him; so now he affirms that he cannot have without being reconciled to God. He thus distinguishes himself from worldly men, who are very little affected with a concern about having God reconciled to them; or, rather, who do not cease securely to enjoy themselves, although God is angry with them. He distinctly affirms, that, until he know that God is reconciled to him, he is a dead man even while living; but that, on the other hand, whenever God shall cause his mercy to shine upon him, he will be restored from death to life. By the way, he intimates that he was deprived for a time of the tokens of God’s fatherly favor; for it would have been needless for him to have wished that it might come to him, had it not been removed from him. As an argument for obtaining what he supplicates, he asserts that the law of God was his delight; nor could he otherwise hope that God would be merciful to him. Besides, no man truly feels what virtue is in the Divine favor, but he who, placing his chief happiness in that alone, is convinced that all who dissever themselves from God are miserable and accursed; a truth which the prophet had learned from the law.
78.Let the proud be put to shame. We have already often had occasion to remark, that, in the Hebrew language, the future tense is frequently used in the sense of the optative mood, as here, — They shall be put to shame, for, Let them be put to shame. Still it would not be unsuitable to explain the meaning thus’ As the proud have dealt mischievously with me, and molested me without a cause, the Lord will give them their reward. But as almost all interpreters are agreed that this is a prayer, in the translation of the verse I am unwilling to depart from the generally received explanation, especially as the language is expressly addressed to God himself. It is important to attend to the reason why the Psalmist hopes that God will be an enemy to his enemies; namely, because they wickedly and maliciously assaulted him. The word
79.Let such as fear thee turn unto me. In this verse, which is connected with the preceding, the Psalmist affirms, that the deliverance which he obtained would afford common instruction to all the godly. My condition, as if he had said, may, for a time, have disheartened the righteous, as well as increased the insolence of my enemies; but now, taking courage, they will turn their eyes to this joyful spectacle. Moreover, let us learn from the two marks, by which he distinguishes true believers, what is the nature of genuine godliness. He puts the fear, or the reverence of God, in the first, place; but he immediately joins to it the knowledge of Divine truth, to teach us that these two things are inseparably connected. The superstitious, indeed, exhibit a fear of God of a certain kind, but it is a mere show, which quickly vanishes. Besides, they weary themselves in their own inventions to no purpose; for God will take no account of any other services, but those which are performed in obedience to his commandments. True religion, then, and the worship of God, have their origin in faith — in the faith of what he has enjoined; so that no person can serve God aright, but he who has been taught in His school.
80.Let my heart be sound in thy statutes Having, a little before, desired to be endued with a sound understanding, he now prays, in a similar manner, for sincere affection of heart. The understanding and affections, as is well known, are the two principal faculties of the human soul, both of which he clearly shows to be depraved and perverse, when he requests that his understanding may be illuminated, and, at the same time, that his heart may be framed to the obedience of the law. This plainly refutes all that the Papists babble about free will. The prophet not only here prays that God would help him, because his will was weak; but he testifies, without qualification, that uprightness of heart is. the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are, moreover, taught by these words, in what the true keeping of the law consists. A great part of mankind, after having carelessly framed their life according to the Divine law, by outward obedience, think that they want nothing. But the Holy Spirit here declares that no service is acceptable to God, except that which proceeds from integrity of heart. As to the word,
81.My soul hath fainted for thy salvation. The Psalmist intimates that, although worn out with continual grief, and perceiving no issue to his calamities, yet trouble and weariness had not produced such a discouraging effect upon his mind, as to prevent him from always reposing with confidence in God. To bring out the meaning the more distinctly, we must begin at the second clause, which is obviously added by way of exposition. There he affirms that he trusts in God; and this is the foundation of all. But, intending to express the invincible constancy of his trust, he tells us that he patiently endured all the distresses, under which others succumb. We see some embracing with great eagerness the promises of God; but their ardor, within a short time, vanishes; or, at least, is quenched by adversity. It was far otherwise with David. The verb
82My eyes have waxed dim in looking for thy word This verse is very similar to the preceding, — transforming to the eyes what had been said before concerning the soul. The only difference is, that, instead of longing after salvation or help, the expression, longing after God’s word compromise, is here used; for salvation is an act, as it is termed; that is to say, it consists in effect, whereas a promise keeps us suspended in expectation. God may not, all at once, openly perform what he has promised; and, in this case, it being only in his word that he promises us help, there is no other way by which we can hope for help, than by our reposing on his word. As, then, the word precedes, in order, the help which God affords, or, rather, as it is the manner in which it is represented to our view, the prophet, when sighing after salvation, very properly declares that he kept his eyes fixed on the Divine word, until his sight failed him. Here we have presented to us the wonderful and incredible power of patience, under the infirmity of the flesh, when, being faint and deprived of all rigor, we have recourse to God for help, even while it is hidden from us. In short, the prophet, to prevent it from being supposed that he was too effeminate and faint-hearted, intimates that his fainting was not without cause. In asking God, When wilt thou comfort me? he shows, with sufficient plainness, that he was for a long time, as it were, cast off and forsaken.
83.For I have been as a bottle in the smoke. (426) The particle
(426) Bottles, among the Jews and other nations of the East, were made of goats’ or kids’ skins, as is the custom among the Eastern nations at this day. When the animal was killed, they cut off its feet and head, and drew it, in that manner, out of the skin without opening the belly. They afterwards sewed up the places where the legs were cut off, and the tail, and when it was filled, they tied it about the neck. In these bottles, not only water, milk, and other liquids were put, but every thing intended to be carried to a distance, whether dry or liquid. To these goat-skin vessels a reference is here undoubtedly made. The peasantry of Asia are in the habit of suspending them from the roof, or hanging them against the walls of their tents or humble dwellings: here they soon become quite black with smoke; for, as in their dwellings there are seldom any chimneys, and the smoke can only escape through an aperture in the roof, or by the door, whenever a fire is lighted the apartment is instantly filled with dense smoke. Accordingly, some suppose that the allusion here chiefly is to the blackness which a bottle contracts by hanging in the smoke; and the translators of our English Bible, by referring in the margin to Job 30:30, as parallel to this, seem to have supposed that the Psalmist refers to the blackness his face contracted by sorrow. “But,” says Harmer, “this can hardly be supposed to be the whole of his thought. In such a case, would he not rather have spoken of the blackness of a pot, as it is supposed the prophet Joel does, (Joel 2:6,) rather than to that of a leather bottle ?” — Harmer ’s Observations, volume 1, page 218. When such bottles are suspended in the smoky tent of an Arab, if they do not contain liquids, or are not quite filled by the solids which they hold, they become dry, shrunk, and shriveled; and to this, as well as to their blackness, the Psalmist may allude. Long-continued bodily affliction and mental trouble produce a similar change on the human frame, destroying its beauty and strength by drying up the natural moisture. It has also been thought that there is a contrast between such mean bottles and the rich vessels of gold and silver which were used in the palaces of kings. “My appearance in the state of my exile is as different from what it was when I dwelt at court, as are the gold and silver vessels of a palace from the smoky skin bottles of a poor Arab’s tent, where I am now compelled to reside.” — Ibid. and Paxton ’s Illustrations, volume 2, pages 409, 410.
84.How many are the days of thy servant? etc. Some read these two clauses apart, as if the first were a general complaint of the brevity of human life, such as is to be met with in other psalms, and more frequently in the book of Job; and next, in their opinion, there follows a special prayer of the Psalmist, that God would take vengeance upon his enemies. But I rather prefer joining the two clauses together, and limit both to David’s afflictions; as if it had been said, Lord, how long hast thou determined to abandon thy servant to the will of the ungodly? when wilt thou set thyself in opposition to their cruelty and outrage, in order to take vengeance upon them? The Scriptures often use the word days in this sense; as, for example, “the days of Egypt,” Ezekiel 30:9; “the days of Babylon,” and “the days of Jerusalem,” Psalms 137:7; a word which, in other places, is called “ the day of visitation,” Isaiah 10:3. By the use of the plural number, is denoted a certain determinate portion of time, which, in other places, is compared to the “days of an hireling,” Job 14:6; Isaiah 16:14. The Psalmist does not, then, bewail in general the transitory life of man, but he complains that the time of his state of warfare in this world had been too long protracted; and, therefore, he naturally desires that it might be brought to a termination. In expostulating with God about his trouble, he does not do so obstinately, or with a murmuring spirit; but still, in asking how long it will be necessary for him to suffer, he humbly prays that God would not delay to succor him. As to the point of his stirring him up by prayer to execute vengeance, we have elsewhere seen in what sense it was lawful for him to make such a request; namely, because the vengeance which he desired to see was such as is properly suitable to God. It is certain that he had divested himself of all the corrupt affections of the flesh, that he might, with a pure and undisturbed zeal, desire God’s judgment. He, however, in this passage, only wishes in general to be delivered by the hand of God from the wrongs which were inflicted upon him, without adjudging to perdition his adversaries; for he was quite contented, provided God appeared to defend him.
85The proud (428) have digged pits for me. He complains that he had been circumvented by the frauds and artifices of his enemies; as if he had said, They have not only endeavored to injure me by open force and the violence of the sword, but have also maliciously sought to destroy me by snares and secret arts. The additional clause, which thing is not according to thy Law, is introduced as an argument, to excite God to exercise his mercy; for he is the more inclined to succor his servants, when he sees that the attempts made upon their welfare involve the violation of his own Law. At the same time, the Psalmist furnishes a proof of his own innocence, intimating that he had deserved no such treatment at their hands, and that whatever they practiced, he, notwithstanding, patiently kept himself under restraint; not attempting any thing which he knew to be contrary to the Divine Law.
86.All thy commandments are truth. In this verse he again confirms the statement, That, in whatever ways he was afflicted, his mind had not been distracted by various devices, because, trusting in the word of God, he never doubted of his assistance. In the first place, he tells us, that the consideration, by which he was armed for repelling all assaults, was this, That the faithful, under the conduct of God, engage in a prosperous warfare, the salvation which they hope for from his word being absolutely certain. For this reason he declares, that the commandments of God are true; by which encomium he teaches us, that those who rely upon the word of God are out of all danger; and he lays down this truth, that such a support may always sustain our courage. In the second place, he complains of the treachery of his enemies, as he declared before. Here the word
87.They have almost consumed me upon the earth. He repeats, in somewhat different words, what he had spoken a little before, that, although he had been sorely tempted, he had nevertheless kept his footing, because he had not given up with true religion. A single declaration of this fact would have been enough for those who are perfect; but if we call to mind our own weakness, we will readily confess that it was not unworthy of being repeatedly stated. We not only forget the law of God when we are shaken by extreme conflicts, but the greater part lose their courage even before they engage in the conflict. On which account this wonderful strength of the prophet is worthy of more special notice, who, although almost reduced to death, yet never ceased to revive his courage by continual meditation on the law. Nor is it in vain that he adds, that it was upon the earth that his enemies had almost consumed him, conveying the idea, that, when the fears of death presented themselves to him on all sides in this world, he elevated his mind above the world. If faith reach to heaven, it will be an easy matter to emerge from despair.
88.Quicken me according to thy goodness This verse contains nothing new. In the beginning of it David represents his life as depending on God’s mercy, not only because he was conscious of human frailty, but because he saw himself daily exposed to death in multiplied forms, or rather because he was convinced, that were God’s power withdrawn from him, he would be laid prostrate as if he were dead. He next promises, that when he shall be again restored to life, he will not be ungrateful, but will duly acknowledge this as a blessing from God, and that not only with the tongue, but also in his whole life. As the various instances in which God succors us and delivers us from dangers are so many new lives, it is reasonable that we should dedicate to his service whatever additional time is allotted to us in this world. When the law is called the testimony of God’s mouth, by this eulogium its authority is very plainly asserted.
89Thy word, O Jehovah I endure for ever. Many explain this verse as if David adduced the stability of the heavens as a proof of God’s truth. According to them the meaning is, that God is proved to be true because the heavens continually remain in the same state. (429) Others offer a still more forced interpretation, That God’s truth is more sure than the state of the heavens. But it appears to me that the prophet intended to convey a very different idea. As we see nothing constant or of long continuance upon earth, he elevates our minds to heaven, that they may fix their anchor there. David, no doubt, might have said, as he has done in many other places, that the whole order of the world bears testimony to the steadfastness of God’s word — that word which is most true. But as there is reason to fear that the minds of the godly would hang in uncertainty if they rested the proof of God’s truth upon the state of the world, in which such manifold disorders prevail; by placing God’s truth in the heavens, he allots to it a habitation subject to no changes. That no person then may estimate God’s word from the various vicissitudes which meet his eye in this world, heaven is tacitly set in opposition to the earth. Our salvation, as if it had been said, being shut up in God’s word, is not subject to change, as all earthly things are, but is anchored in a safe and peaceful haven. The same truth the Prophet Isaiah teaches in somewhat different words:
“All flesh is grass, and all the godliness thereof is as the flower of the field,” (Isaiah 40:6.)
He means, according to the Apostle Peter’s exposition, (1 Peter 1:24) that the certainty of salvation is to be sought in the word, and, therefor that they do wrong who settle their minds upon the world; for the steadfastness of God’s word far transcends the stability of the world.
(429) This is the explanation given by Walford. His translation is —
“O Jehovah! for ever
Is thy word established in the heavens.”
Upon which he observes: “The design of these words is by no means obvious, and the interpreters vary greatly in their explications. I have not met with any explanation that is altogether satisfactory, and shall therefore give what appears to me to be the true meaning. The design, in general, of the Psalmist is, to celebrate the immutability of the word of God: whatever He speaks is sure. To illustrate this position, he refers to the creation of the heavens and of the earth; they were alike formed by the word of God, — ‘He spake, and it was done.’ By virtue of that word these vast productions abide through all ages, so that the word of God is established and displayed in heaven and upon earth. As the same word uttered all the precepts and institutions of the law, and all the promises of the covenant of mercy, the unchangeableness of these precepts and promises is verified and manifested by the perpetual conservation of all these instances of physical power and energy.”
90.Thy truth is from generation to generation In this verse the Psalmist repeats and confirms the same sentiment. He expressly teaches, that although the faithful live for a short time as strangers upon earth, and soon pass away, yet their life is not perishable, since they are begotten again of an incorruptible seed. He, however, proceeds still farther. He had before enjoined us to pierce by faith into heaven, because we will find nothing in the world on which we can assuredly rest; and now he again teaches us, by experience, that though the world is subject to revolutions, yet in it bright and signal testimonies to the truth of God shine forth, so that the steadfastness of his word is not exclusively confined to heaven, but comes down even to us who dwell upon the earth. For this reason, it is added, that the earth continues steadfast, even as it was established by God at the beginning. Lord, as if it had been said, even in the earth we see thy truth reflected as it were in a mirror; for though it is suspended in the midst of the sea, yet it continues to remain in the same state. These two things, then, are quite consistent; first, that the steadfastness of God’s word is not to be judged of according to the condition of the world, which is always fluctuating, and fades away as a shadow; and, secondly, that yet men are ungrateful if they do not acknowledge the constancy which in many respects marks the frame. work of the world; for the earth, which otherwise could not occupy the position it does for a single moment, abides notwithstanding steadfast, because God’s word is the foundation on which it rests. Farther, no person has any ground for objecting, that it is a hard thing to go beyond this world in quest of the evidences of God’s truth, since, in that case, it would be too remote from the apprehension of men. The prophet meets the objection by affirming, that although it dwells in heaven, yet we may see at our very feet conspicuous proofs of it, which may gradually advance us to as perfect knowledge of it as our limited capacity will permit. Thus the prophet, on the one hand, exhorts us to rise above the whole world by faith, so that the word of God may be found by experience to be adequate, as it really is adequate, to sustain our faith; and, on the other hand, he warns us that we have no excuse, if, by the very sight of the earth, we do not discover the truth of God, since legible traces of it are to be found at our feet. In the first clause, men are called back from the vanity of their own understanding; and, in the other; their weakness is relieved, that they may have a foretaste upon earth of what is to be found more fully in heaven.
91.By thy judgments they continue to this day. The word,
92.Had not thy law been my delight The prophet continues to prosecute almost the same theme; affirming, that he would have been undone, had he not in his calamities sought consolation from the law of God. The adverb,
93.I will never forget thy statutes. This verse contains a thanksgiving. As the law of the Lord had preserved him, he engages that he will never forget it. Yet he, at the same time, admonishes himself and others how necessary it is to cherish in the heart the remembrance of the Divine Law; for though we have found from experience its life-giving power, yet we easily allow it to pass from our memories, and on this account God afterwards justly punishes us, by leaving us for a long time to languish in our sadness.
94.I am thine, save me. In the first place, he takes encouragement to pray from the consideration, that he is one of God’s own stamp and coinage, as we speak. In the second place, he proves that he is God’s from the fact of his keeping his commandments. This ought not, however, to be understood as if he boasted of any merit which he possessed; as, in dealing with men, it is customary to adduce something meritorious which we have done as an argument for obtaining what we desire: — I have always loved and esteemed you, I have always studied to promote your honor and advantage; my service has always been ready at your command. But David rather brings forward the unmerited grace of God, and that alone; for no man, by any efforts of his own, acquires the high honor of being under the protection of God — an honor which proceeds solely from his free adoption. The blessing which God had conferred upon him is therefore here adduced as an argument why he should not forsake the work which he had commenced. When he affirms, that he was earnestly intent upon the Divine commandments, that also depended upon the Divine calling; for he did not begin to apply his mind to God’s commandments before he was called and received into his household. As he desires, in this verse, that the Lord would save him, so, in the next verse, he expresses the need he had of being saved, saying, that the wicked sought for him to destroy him; by which he, at the same time, declares the constancy of his godliness, inasmuch as he then set his mind upon the law of God — a point worthy of special notice. Those who, at other times, would the forward and willing to follow God, know not to what side to turn themselves when they are assailed by the wicked, and, in that case, are very prone to follow unhallowed counsel. It is therefore a great virtue to do God the honor of resting contented with his promises alone, when the wicked conspire for our destruction, and when, to all human appearance, our life is in jeopardy. To consider God’s testimonies is, in this place, equivalent to applying our minds to the word of God, which sustains us against all assaults, effectually allays all fears, and restrains us from following any perverse counsels.
96.In all perfection, I have seen the end. (430) The prophet again, using other words, commends the same truth which he had taught in the first verse of this part — that the word of God is not subject to change, because it is elevated far above the perishable elements of this world. He here asserts, that there is nothing under heaven so perfect and stable, or so complete, in all respects, as not to have an end; and that the Divine word alone possesses such amplitude as to surpass all bounds and limits. Since the verb
(430) “The literal translation is, to the whole of perfection I perceive a limit. The Hebrew word, however, which is rendered by perfection, occurs only in this place. It seems clearly to have for its root a verb signifying to complete, to finish: the meaning is, ‘to every created thing, however perfect, I see a boundary;’ that is, it is limited as to its capability, as well as to its duration.” — Cresswell.
(431) “All human things, however full, perfect, and admirable, are necessarily deficient and mutable; but the law of God, like the nature of him from whom it proceeds, endureth for ever, and is in all respects complete and unalterable. We are to understand by the law here, the whole revealed will of God, comprehensive of promise as well as precept.” — Walford.
97.O how have I loved thy law! Not contented with a simple affirmation, the prophet exclaims, by way of interrogation, that he was inflamed with incredible love to the law of God; and, in proof of this, he adds, that he was continually engaged in meditating upon it. If any person boasts that he loves the Divine Law, and yet neglects the study of it, and applies his mind to other things, he betrays the grossest hypocrisy; for the love of the law, and especially such an ardent love of it as the prophet here expresses, always produces continual meditation upon it. And, assuredly, unless God’s law inflame and ravish our hearts with the love of it, many allurements will quickly steal upon us, and lead us away to vanity. The prophet, then, here commends such a love of the law, as, possessing all our senses, effectually excludes all the deceits and corruption’s to which we are otherwise too much inclined.
98.Thou hast made me wiser than my adversaries He here declares, that he was more learned than his adversaries, his instructors, and the aged, because he was a scholar of God’s law. It is in a different sense that he describes himself as endued with understanding above his adversaries, from that in which he describes himself as wiser than his teachers. He surpassed his enemies, because their cunning and artifices availed them nothing when they employed these to the utmost to effect his destruction. The malice of the wicked is always goading them to do mischief; and as they are often artful and deceitful, we are afraid lest our simplicity should be imposed upon by their deceits, unless we use the same crafts and underhand dealings which they practice. Accordingly, the prophet glories, that he found in God’s law enough to enable him to escape all their snares. When he claims the credit of being superior in knowledge to his instructors, he does not mean to deny that they also had learned from the word of God what was useful to be known. But he gives God thanks for enabling him to surpass, in proficiency, those from whom he had learned the first elements of knowledge. (432) Nor is it any new thing for the scholar to excel his master, according as God distributes to each man the measure of understanding. The faithful, it is true, are instructed by the pains and labor of men, but it is in such a way, as that God is still to be regarded as enlightening them. And it is owing to this that the scholar surpasses the master; for God means to show as it were, with the finger, that he uses the service of men in such a way as that he himself continues still the chief teacher. Let us therefore learn to commit ourselves to his tuition, that we may glory with David, that by his guidance we have proceeded farther than man’s instruction could lead us. He adds the same thing respecting the aged, for the more abundant confirmation of his statement. Age is of great avail in polishing, by long experience and practice, men who, by nature, are dull and rude. Now the prophet asserts, that he had acquired, by the Divine Law, more discretion than belongs to aged men. (433) In short, he means to affirm, that whoever yields himself with docility to God, keeps his thoughts in subjection to his word, and exercises himself diligently in meditating upon the Law, will thence derive wisdom sufficient for enabling him to consult his own safety in opposition to the stratagems of his enemies, to exercise circumspection requisite for escaping their deceits; and, finally, to match with the most eminent masters through the whole course of his life. David, however, does not adduce his wisdom, that he may boast of it before the world; but, by his own example, he warns us, that nothing is better for us than to learn at God’s mouth, since those only are perfectly wise who are taught in his school. At the same time, sobriety is here enjoined upon the faithful, that they may not seek for wisdom elsewhere than from God’s word, and that ambition or curiosity may not incite them to vain boasting. In short, all are here recommended to behave themselves with modesty and humility, that no man may claim to himself such knowledge as elevates him above the Divine Law; but that all men, however intelligent, may willingly yield themselves to the lessons of heavenly wisdom revealed in the Divine Word. When he says, that he kept God’s statutes, he teaches us what kind of meditation it is of which we have spoken, to let us know that he did not coldly philosophies upon God’s precepts, but devoted himself to them with earnest affection.
(432) "As he had entered into the spiritual nature of the law of God, and saw into the exceeding breadth of the commandment, he soon became wiser than any of the priests, or even prophets who instructed him.” — Dr. Adam Clarke
(433) “I understand more than the ancients. God had revealed to him more of that hidden wisdom, which was in his law, than he had done to any of his predecessors. And this was most literally true of David, who spoke more fully about Christ than any who had gone before him; or, indeed, followed after him. His compositions are, I had almost said, a sublime gospel. ” — Ibid.
101.I have restrained my feet from every evil path He intimates that he proclaimed war against every vice, that he might wholly devote himself to the service of God. From this we learn the profitable lesson, that in order to our keeping God’s Law, we must, from the commencement, beware lest our feet should step aside into crooked by-paths; for with a nature so corrupted as ours is, amidst so many allurements, and with minds so fickle, we are in the greatest danger of being led astray; yea, it is a rare miracle if any man hold on in his life in a right course, without turning aside in one direction or another. The faithful, therefore, have need to exercise the greatest circumspection, in order to keep their feet from going astray.
In the next verse, David commends his own constancy in observing the Law. He declares that ever since he had learned from God the right manner of living, he had pursued the right course. As the way is so slippery, and our feet so feeble, and our whole disposition so prone to go astray after innumerable errors, no small exertions are requisite on our part, in order to avoid declining from God’s judgments. But we must attend to the manner of teaching to which the Psalmist refers; for though all, without exception, to whom God’s word is preached, are taught, yet scarce one in ten so much as tastes it; yea, scarce one in a hundred profits to the extent of being enabled, thereby, to proceed in a right course to the end. A peculiar manner of teaching is, therefore, here pointed out — that which consists in God’s drawing his chosen people to himself. I have been brought, as if the Psalmist had said, into the way of salvation, and preserved in it by the secret influence of the Holy Spirit.
103.O how sweet have been thy words to my palate! He again repeats what he had previously stated in different words, that he was so powerfully attracted by the sweetness of the Divine Law, as to have no desire after any other delight. It is possible that a man may be affected with reverence towards the Law of God; but no one will cheerfully follow it, save he who has tasted this sweetness. God requires from us no slavish service: he will have us to come to him cheerfully, and this is the very reason why the prophet commends the sweetness of God’s word so often in this psalm. If it is demanded in what sense he declares that he took such sweet delight in God’s Law, which, according to the testimony of Paul, (1 Corinthians 3:9,) does nothing else but strike fear into men, the solution is easy: The prophet does not speak of the dead letter which kills those who read it, but he comprehends the whole doctrine of the Law, the chief part of which is the free covenant of salvation. When Paul contrasts the Law with the Gospel, he speaks only of the commandments and threatening. Now if God were only to command, and to denounce the curse, the whole of his communication would, undoubtedly, be deadly. But the prophet is not here opposing the Law to the Gospel; and, therefore, he could affirm that the grace of adoption, which is offered in the Law, was sweeter to him than honey; that is to say, that no delight was to him equal to this. What I have previously said must be remembered, that the Law of God will be unsavory to us, or, at least, that it will never be so sweet to us, as to withdraw us from the pleasures of the flesh, until we have struggled manfully against our own nature, in order to subdue the carnal affections which prevail within us.
104By thy statutes I have acquired understanding The prophet seems here to invert the order he has just now laid down. He observed that he had kept his feet from going astray, that he might observe God’s Law, and now he institutes a contrary order, beginning with the observance of the Law; for he declares that he had been taught by the word of God before he amended his faults. Yet these two things are not inconsistent, — that the faithful should withdraw themselves from their wanderings, in order to frame their life according to the rule of God’s word, and that when they are already advanced a considerable way in a holy life, the fear of God being then more vigorous in them, they should regard all vices with more intense hatred. The beginning of a good life, unquestionably, is when a man endeavors to purge himself from vices; and the more a man has made progress in a good life, he will burn with a, proportionate zeal in his detestation of vices and in shunning them. Moreover, we are taught by the words of the prophet, that the reason why men are so involved in falsehoods, and entangled in perverse errors, is, because they have not learned wisdom from the word of God. As the whole world are given to folly, those who wander astray plead in excuse, that it is difficult for them to guard against the allurements of vice. But the remedy will be near at hand, if we follow the counsel of the prophet; that is to say, if, instead of leaning on our own wisdom, we seek understanding from the word of God, in which he not only shows what is right:. but also fortifies our minds, and puts us on our guard against all the deceits of Satan, and all the impostures of the world. Would to God that, at the present day, this were thoroughly impressed on the minds of all who boast themselves of being Christians; for then they would not be continually driven about, as the greater part of them are, with such inconstancy, according to the conflicting impulses of prevailing opinions. As Satan is so sedulously exerting himself to spread abroad the mists of error, let us apply ourselves with the greater earnestness to the acquisition of this wisdom.
105.Thy word is a lamp to my feet. In this verse the Psalmist testifies that the Divine Law was his schoolmaster and guide in leading a holy life. He thus, by his own example, prescribes the same rule to us all; and it is highly necessary to observe this rule; for while each of us follows what seems good in his own estimation, we become entangled in inextricable and frightful mazes. The more distinctly to understand his intention, it is to be noted, that the word of God is set in opposition to all human counsels. What the world judges right is often crooked and perverse in the judgment of God, who approves of no other manner of living, than that which is framed according to the rule of his law. It is also to be observed, that David could not have been guided by God’s word, unless he had first renounced the wisdom of the flesh, for it is only when we are brought to do this, that we begin to be of a teachable disposition. But the metaphor which he uses implies something more; namely, that unless the word of God enlighten men’s path, the whole of their life is enveloped in darkness and obscurity, so that they cannot do anything else than miserably wander from the right way; and again, that when we submit ourselves with docility to the teaching of God’s law, we are in no danger of going astray. Were there such obscurity in God’s word, as the Papists foolishly talk about, the commendation with which the prophet here honors the law would be altogether undeserved. Let us, then, be assured that an unerring light is to be found there, provided we open our eyes to behold it. The Apostle Peter (2 Peter 1:19) has more plainly expressed the same sentiment, when he commends the faithful for taking heed to the word of prophecy, “as unto a light that shineth in a dark place.”
106.I have sworn, and will perform Here the Psalmist speaks of his own constancy. He had declared a little before, that during the whole course of his life, he had not declined from God’s law, and now he speaks of the purpose of his mind. By the word swear, he intimates that he had solemnly pledged himself to God not to alter his determination. The true manner of keeping God’s law is to receive and embrace what he commands heartily, and, at the same time, uniformly, that our ardor may not forthwith abate, as is often the case. This also is the proper rule of vowing, that we may offer ourselves to God, and dedicate our life to him. It may, however, be asked, whether the prophet’s oath may not be condemned as rash, inasmuch as he presumed to engage to do far more than man’s ability is equal to; for who is able to keep the law? The man, then, it may be alleged, vows rashly, who promises to God a thing which it is beyond his power to accomplish. The answer is obvious: Whenever the faithful vow to Him, they do not look to what they are able to do of themselves, but they depend upon the grace of God, to whom it belongs to perform what he requires from them, in the way of supplying them with strength by his Holy Spirit. When the question is in reference to service to be rendered to God, they cannot vow anything without the Holy Spirit; for, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:5 ,
“ Not that are sufficient of ourselves to think anything
as of ourselves.”
But when God stretches forth his hand to us, he bids us be of good courage, and promises that he will never fail us; and this is the source from which the boldness to swear, here spoken of, proceeds. Nor is it any rashness at all, when, confiding in his promises, by which he anticipates us, we, on our part, offer ourselves to his service. The question, however, still remains unsolved; for although the children of God ultimately prove victorious over all temptations by the grace of the Holy Spirit, yet there is always some infirmity about them. But it is to be observed, that the faithful, in making vows and promises, have a respect not only to that article of the covenant, by which God has promised that he will cause us to walk in his commandments, but also to that other article which is, at the same time, added concerning the free forgiveness of their sins, Ezekiel 11:20; Psalms 103:13. David, therefore, according to the measure of grace given him, bound himself by oath to keep God’s la encouraged by these words of the prophet,
“I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him,”
107.I am greatly afflicted, O Jehovah! This verse teaches, that God did not cherish the fathers under the law in his bosom so delicately as not to exercise them with grievous temptations; for the Psalmist declares that he was not afflicted lightly, or in an ordinary degree, but above measure. His prayer to be quickened implies that he was at the point of death. He, however, at the same time, shows, that though he was besieged by death, he yet fainted not, because he leaned upon God — a point worthy of special notice; for though, at the beginning, we may call upon God with much alacrity, yet when the trial increases in severity, our hearts quail, and, in the extremity of fear, our confidence is extinguished. Yet the prophet implores God for grace, not in order to his life being preserved in safety, but in order to his recovering the life he had lost, which indicates both the low condition to which he was reduced, and his continued confidence in God. We must also observe attentively the last part of the clause, according to thy word We will pray coldly, or rather we will not pray at all, if God’s promise does not inspire us with courage in our sorrow and distress. In short, as we have said elsewhere, it is indispensably necessary that we should have this key at hand, in order to our having free access to the throne of grace.
108.O Jehovah! I beseech thee, let the flee-will-offerings of my mouth. This verse may be read in one connected sentence, as well as divided into two members. According to the former view, the sense will be, Receive, e Lord, my sacrifices, to this end, that thou mayest teach me thy commandments. If we prefer dividing the verse into two clauses, then it will consist of two separate prayers; first, a prayer that God would accept the prophet’s sacrifices; and, secondly, a prayer that he would instruct him in the doctrine of the law. I am rather inclined to follow the first opinion. The prophet affirms, as we have seen elsewhere, that nothing was more precious to him than to understand the doctrine of the law. Lord, as if he had said, do thou, according to thy good pleasure, accept the sacrifices which I offer thee; and as my chief desire is, to be instructed aright in thy law, grant that I may be a partaker of this blessing, which I am so anxious to obtain. We should mark all the places in which the knowledge of divine truth is preferred to all the other benefits bestowed upon mankind; and doubtless, since it contains in it the pledge of everlasting salvation, there is good reason why it should be esteemed as an inestimable treasure. Yet the prophet begins at a point remote from this, praying that God would vouchsafe to approve of and accept his services. By the word
109.My soul is continually in my hand. He declares, that no calamities, afflictions, or dangers, which he had experienced: had withdrawn him from the service of God, and the observance of his law. To bear his soul in his hand, is equivalent to his being in danger of his life, so that the soul was, as it were abandoned to the wind. Thus Job, (Job 13:14,) when he pines in his miseries: and is looking for death every moment, and dreading it, complains that his soul was in his hand; as if he had said, It is plucked from its own dwelling-place: and is under the dominion of death. (434) This form of expression is therefore unhappily wrested to an absurd meaning by ignorant people, who understand the prophet as intimating, that it was in his own power to govern his life as he pleased. So far from intending to convey such an idea, by this circumstance he commends his own piety, declaring, that although he was tossed among shipwrecks, and death in a hundred forms hovered before his eyes, so that he could not rest in security for a single moment, yet he had not cast from him the love and study of the Divine law. Here, again, it is well to notice the severe and arduous conflicts by which the fathers, under the law, were tried, that dangers and fears may not frighten us, or, by the weariness they produce, deprive us of courage, and thus prevent the remembrance of the Divine law from remaining impressed on our hearts.
(434) This proverbial expression occurs in several other places of Scripture, in all of which it undoubtedly signifies, that the life of the person who employs it is in danger; as in Judges 12:3, “And when I saw that ye delivered me not, I put my life in my hands, and passed over against the children of Ammon;” 1 Samuel 19:5, “He put his life in his hand, and slew the Philistines;” and 1 Samuel 28:21, “And the woman came unto Saul, and said, I have put my life in my hand. ” Phillips thus explains the figure: “We are accustomed to say, that an affair is in a person’s hands when the management and issue of it rest entirely with him, and so we speak when that affair is the life or death of an individual. Hence, similarly, when the Hebrews spoke of a person’s life being in his own hands, they might mean, that the preservation of his life was entirely with him, that he was destitute of all external assistance, and that consequently his life was in danger. This is particularly the case with military men, who, as they fight bravely, or otherwise, may preserve or lose their lives: so Jephthah, as appears from the passages above cited.” The figure may, however, be taken from the circumstance, that what a man carries openly in his hand is in danger of taking, or of being snatched away by violence. “The LXX. have changed the person of the pronoun,
110.The wicked have laid a snare for me The meaning of this verse is similar to that of the preceding. The prophet shows more definitely in what respect he carried his life in his hand; namely, because, being hemmed in on all sides by the snares of the wicked, he saw scarcely any hope of life. We have previously observed how difficult it is to avoid wandering from the ways of the Lord, when our enemies, by their subtle arts, endeavor to effect our destruction. The depraved desire of our fallen nature incites us to retaliate, nor do we see any way of preserving our life, unless we employ the same arts by which they assail us; and we persuade ourselves that it is lawful for us to howl among wolves. Such being the ease, we ought, with the more attention, to meditate upon this doctrine, That, when the wicked environ and besiege us by their wiles, the best thing we can do is to follow whither God calls us, and to attempt nothing but what is agreeable to his will.
111.I have thy testimonies as an inheritance for ever. He again confirms the sentiment, which cannot be too often repeated, That the law of God was more precious to him than all the pleasures, riches, and possessions, of the world. I have said, that it is not in vain that these things are so often repeated; for we see how violently the men of the world boil to gratify their unruly lusts, with what multiplied anxieties they are agitated, while they are unceasingly coveting innumerable objects; and, in the meantime, scarcely one in a hundred is, in a moderate degree, aiming to apply his mind to the study of the Divine law. The prophet, then, to stir us up by his own example, asserts, that he took such pleasure in God’s, testimonies as to esteem nothing more precious. It is love only which leads us to set a value on any object; and, therefore, it is requisite, in order to our observing the Divine law with the reverence due to it, that we begin with this delight in it. It is not wonderful, if God’s testimonies convey to our minds a joy, which, causing us to reject and despise all other things, holds our affections fast bound to them. What can be sweeter than to have heaven opened to us, that we may come freely into the presence of God, when, adopting us to be his children, he pardons our sins? What can be more desirable than to hear that he is so pacified towards us, as to take upon himself the care of our life? This I have thought good to observe briefly, that we might not think it strange to find David rejoicing so greatly in God’s law. The similitude of inheritance is of frequent occurrence in the Scriptures; and we apply the designation of inheritance to that which we hold in the highest estimation, so that we are contented to be deprived of all other things, provided we retain the safe and full possession of that one thing. Accordingly, the prophet intimates, that whatever good things he had obtained he accounted them as adventitious, and that the truths revealed in God’s word alone were to him as an inheritance. Without the Divine word all other things were in his estimation as nothing; so that he could willingly leave to others, riches, honors, comforts, and pleasures, provided he possessed this incomparable treasure. It is not meant to say that he; altogether despised the temporal benefits which God bestows, but his mind was not bound fast to them.
112.I have inclined my heart to perform thy statutes. In this verse he describes the right observance of the law, which consists in Our cheerfully and heartily preparing ourselves for doing what the law commands. Slavish and constrained obedience differs little from rebellion. The prophet, therefore, in order briefly to define what it is to serve God, asserts, that he applied not only his hands, eyes, or feet, to the keeping of the law, but that he began with the affection of the heart. Instead of the verb incline, the verb extend might with propriety be employed; but I am inclined to rest in the more generally received interpretation, which is, that he devoted himself with sincere affection of heart to the observance of the law. This inclination of the heart is oppose to the wandering lusts which rise up against God, and drag us any where rather than incline us to a virtuous life. The attempt of the Papists to defend from this passage their doctrine of free will is mere trifling. They infer from the words of the prophet, that it is in the power of man to bend his own heart in whatever way he pleases. But the answer is easy. The prophet does not here boast of what he had done by his own strength, for he now repeats the very same word which he had employed before, when he said, Incline my heart to these testimonies. If that prayer was not feigned, he doubtless acknowledged by it that it was the peculiar work of the Holy Spirit to incline and frame our hearts to God. But it is no new thing for that to be ascribed to us which God works in us: Paul’s statement to this effect is very plain,
“It is God who worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasures” (Philippians 2:13.)
When the prophet says of himself that he inclined his heart, he does not separate his own endeavor from the grace of the Holy Spirit, by whose inspiration he has previously declared that the whole was done. At the same time, he distinguishes the constancy of his pious affection from the transient favor of others. Thus, that he might not fail in the midst of his course, or even go backward, he affirms that he had resolved to continue in the same course during the whole of his life. The word
(435) Thus, in the Arabic, it is, “on account of an eternal reward;” that is, the reward of grace promised to all the faithful. According to this view, the Psalmist would have a respect to the end and reward of faith and holy obedience. See Hebrews 11:26; 1 Peter 1:8. As, however, the Psalmist, like all true believers, did not embrace and obey the law of God, only or chiefly from the hope of reward, but was chiefly attracted to obedience by love to God, and the intrinsic excellence of the law, others prefer reading “the reward is eternal.”
113.I have hated crooked thoughts. Those who are of opinion that the word
(436) In the Chaldee, it is “vain thinkers;” and thus the meaning would be, “I hate men that think evil, that devise wicked devices, or that have false and evil opinions, opposite to God’s law, or tending to seduce men from it.”
(437) It signifies thoughts in Job 4:14, and Job 20:2; and opinions in 1 Kings 18:21: and these may be either good or evil, their character being determined by the context of the passage in which the word occurs.
(438) The sense of the text also requires that the word for thoughts should here be taken in a bad sense, for the Psalmist affirms that he hates them, and sets God’s law in opposition to them. Various epithets have been supplied to describe the character of these thoughts, such as “crooked,” by Calvin, “vain,” by our English version, and “high minded,” by Luther. Ainsworth supplies wavering, observing, that the original term denotes the top branches of trees, which are figuratively applied to the thoughts or opinions of the mind, to denote that they are wavering and uncertain, as 1 Kings 18:21; or to persons distracted with their own cogitations. Poole remarks, agreeably to Calvin’s interpretation, that the thoughts, or opinions, or devices of men differing from, or opposite to God’s law, may be intended, since, in the next clause, God’s law is opposed to them, and as some, both Jewish and Christian, expositors understand the Hebrew word.
114.Thou art my hiding place and my shield. The meaning is, that the prophet, persuaded that the only way in which he could be safe, was by lying hid under the wings of God, confided in his promises, and, therefore, feared nothing. And, assuredly, the first point is, that the faithful should hold it as a settled principle, that amidst the many dangers to which they are exposed, the preservation of their life is entirely owing to the protection of God; in order that they may be excited to flee to him, and leaning upon his word, may confidently wait for the deliverance which he has promised. This confidence, That God is our refuge and our shield, is, no doubt, derived from the word; but we must remember that there is here a mutual relation — that, when we have learned from the word of God that we have in him a safe hiding-place, this truth is to be cherished and confirmed in our hearts, under a consciousness of our absolute need of the divine protection. Besides, although his power ought abundantly to suffice in inspiring us with the hope of salvation, yet we should always set the word before us, that our faith may not fail when his aid is slow in coming.
115.Depart from me, ye wicked! Some explain this verse as if David declared that he would devote himself with more alacrity and greater earnestness to the keeping of the law, when the wicked should have desisted from assaulting him. And, unquestionably, when we feel that God has delivered us, we are more than stupid if this experience does not stir up within us an earnest desire to serve him. If godliness does not increase in us in proportion to the sense and experience we have of God’s grace, we betray base ingratitude. This, then, is a true and useful doctrine; but the prophet meant to convey a different sentiment in this place. As he saw how great a hindrance the ungodly are to us, he banishes them to a distance from him; or rather, he testifies that he will beware of entangling himself in their society. Nor has he said this so much for his own sake as to teach us by his example, that if we would hold on in the way of the Lord without stumbling, we must endeavor, above all things, to keep at the greatest possible distance from worldly and wicked men, not in regard to distance of place, but in respect of intercourse and conversation. Provided we contract an intimate acquaintance with them, it is scarcely possible for us to avoid being speedily corrupted by the contagion of their example. The dangerous influence of fellowship with wicked men is but too evident from observation; and to this it is owing, that few continue in their integrity to the close of life, the world being fraught with corruption’s. From the extreme infirmity of our nature, it is the easiest thing in the world to catch infection, and to contract pollution even from the slightest touch. The prophet, then, with good reason, bids the wicked depart from him, that he may advance in the fear of God without obstruction. Whoever entangles himself in their companionship will, in process of time, proceed the length of abandoning himself to a contempt, of God, and of leading a dissolute life. With this statement agrees the admonition of Paul, in 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” It was, indeed, beyond the prophet’s power to chase the wicked to a distance from him; but by these words he intimates, that from henceforth he will have no intercourse with them. He emphatically designates God as his God, to testify that he makes more account of him alone than of all mankind. Finding extreme wickedness universally prevailing on the earth, he separated himself from men, that he might join himself wholly to God. At the present day, that bad examples may not carry us away to evil, it greatly concerns us to put God on our side, and to abide constantly in him, because he is ours.
116.Sustain me by thy word, and I shall live. Many read, According to thy word, so that the letter
If the first interpretation is adopted, the second clause, make me not ashamed of my expectation, will be added by way of exposition; for these two things — the prayer that the prophet maybe preserved by God’s grace according to his word, and the prayer that he may reap the fruit of his hope — would amount to nearly the same thing. Yet, after having beseeched God to grant him constancy to persevere, he seems now to proceed farther, praying that God would, in very deed, show the thing which he had promised. Every man’s own infirmity bears witness to the many doubts which intrude into our minds, when, after long endurance, the issue is not answerable to our expectation; for God, in that case:. seems to disappoint us.
To the same effect is the next verse, except that no express mention is made of the word; and safety is put for life. The prophet means to say, that whenever God withdrew his word, it would be all over with his safety; but that, if he were established by the Divine power, there was nothing of which he would have reason to be afraid. The verb
118.Thou hast trodden under foot all those who wander from thy statutes. By treading under foot he means, that God overthrows all the despisers of his law, and casts them down from that loftiness which they assume to themselves. The phrase is directed against the foolish, or rather frantic, confidence with which the wicked are inflated, when they recklessly deride the judgments of God; and, what is more, scruple not to magnify themselves against him, as if they were not subject to his power. The last clause is to be particularly noticed: for their deceit is falsehood (439) By these words the prophet teaches, that the wicked gain nothing by their wiles, but that they are rather entangled in them, or at length discover that they were mere sleight of hand. Those ignorantly mar the sense who interpose the copula and, as if it had been said, that deceit and falsehood were in them The word
(439) Dimock thinks that, by this expression, the Psalmist; probably alludes to the
119.Thou hast made all the wicked of the earth to cease as dross. The meaning of this verse is similar to that of the preceding. By the similitude employed, there is described a sudden and an unexpected change, when their imaginative glory and happiness become dissipated in smoke. It is to be observed, that the vengeance of God against the wicked is not all at once manifested, so that they completely perish, or are exterminated from the earth; but as God, in rooting them out one after another, shows himself to be the judge of the world, and that he is purging the earth of them, it is not wonderful to find the prophet speaking of their destruction in this manner; for the Hebrew verbs often denote a continued act. As God, then, executes his judgments by little and little, and often suspends punishment until he see that the wicked abuse his long-suffering; it becomes us, on our part, to continue patiently waiting until, as a heathen writer observes, he compensate the delay of the punishment, by its severity when inflicted. It is abundantly evident, that the particle of similitude, as, is to be supplied before the word dross (440) Nor do I reject the opinion of those who assert, that the wicked are compared to dross, because, so long as they are mingled among the faithful as dregs, they infect and contaminate them; but when they are removed as scum, the purity of the godly shines forth with improved lustre. In the second place, the prophet adds, that the judgments of God were not without fruit in him, since they led him to love the doctrine of the law the more. Those who are not induced to commit themselves to the protection of God, whenever, by lifting up his hand, he shows that the world is governed by his power, must certainly be very perverse; but when, of his own good pleasure, he offers himself to us by his word, those who do not make haste to embrace so great a boon are stupid indeed. On the other hand, when he connives for a long time at the wickedness of men, devout affection, which should ravish us with the love of God’s word, languishes.
(440) “Before the noun
120.My flesh hath trembled for fear of thee. (441) At first sight the prophet seems to contradict himself. He had just now said, that, by God’s severity, he was gently drawn to love his testimonies; now he declares, that he was seized with terror. But although these two effects differ widely from each other, yet, if we consider by what kind of discipline God forms us to reverence his law, we will perceive that they entirely harmonize. We require to be subdued by fear that we may desire and seek after the favor of God. Since fear, then, is the beginning of love, the prophet testifies, that he was awakened by a heart-felt fear of God to look well to himself. Nor is the mortification of the flesh so easy a matter, as that every one should consent to enter upon it, without the constraint of violent means; and, therefore, it is not wonderful if God struck his servant with terror, that, in this way, he might bend his mind to a holy fear of him. It is an evidence of no common wisdom to tremble before God when he executes his judgments, of which the majority of mankind take no notice. We are then taught by these words of the prophet, that we ought to consider attentively the judgments of God, that they may not only gently instruct us, but that they may also strike us with such terror as will lead us to true repentance.
(441) The verb
121.I have done judgment and righteousness. The Prophet implores the help of God against the wicked who troubled him, and he does so in such a manner as at the same time to testify that the harassing treatment he received from them was on his part altogether undeserved. If we would have God to come down to succor us, it becomes us to see to it that we meet him with the testimony of a good conscience. As He everywhere promises his aid to the afflicted who are unrighteously oppressed, it is no superfluous protestation which the Prophet makes, that he had not provoked his enemies, but had restrained himself from all injury and wrong-doing, and had not even attempted to requite evil for evil. In asserting that he had at all times done judgment, he means that whatever rite wicked practiced, he steadfastly persevered in following after integrity, and never turned aside from what was just and right in any of his public or private transactions.
122.Become surety for thy servant for good. This prayer is almost similar to that of the preceding verse; for I prefer translating the Hebrew verb
123.My eyes have failed for thy salvation. (6) In the first; place he testifies, that he had been afflicted with severe troubles, and that not for a short time only, but for a period so protracted as might have exhausted his patience and occasioned despondency. But so far was this from being the effect they produced, that he declares that in all these long and wearisome conflicts his heart had never sunk into despair. We have before explained failing for salvation as denoting that although there was no prospect of an end to his calamities, and although despair presented itself on every side, yet he strove against temptation even to the fainting of his soul. Should we understand the past tense of the verb as put for the present, in which sense it seems to be employed, the Prophet in that case intimates, that his eyes fail him not because they become fatigued, but Because through earnest looking they contract as it were a dimness, and that yet he does not cease to wait continually for the salvation of God. In short, the failing of his eyes indicates perseverance combined with severe and arduous effort, and it is opposed to the momentary ardor of those who immediately faint, if God does not grant their requests. This expression also denotes a painful earnestness, which almost consumes all the senses. As to the term salvation, he does not limit it to one kind of help, but comprehends under it the continual course of God’s grace, until he put his believing people in the possession of complete salvation. He expresses the manner in which he waited for salvation, which was by depending upon God’s word in which two things are to be attended to, first, that we can only be said to wait for salvation from God, when, confiding in his promises, we actually betake ourselves to him for protection; and secondly, that we then only yield to God the praise of salvation, when we continue to keep our hope firmly fixed on his word. This is the way in which He is to be sought; and although he may conceal from our view the working of his hand, we ought to repose in his bare promises. This is the reason why David calls God’s word righteous. He would hereby confirm his faith in the truth of the divine promises for God in promising liberally does not cherish in his people delusive expectations.
(6) “In times of great sorrow, when the heart is oppressed with care, and when danger threatens on every side, the human eye expresses with amazing accuracy the distressing and anguished emotions of the soul. The posture here described is that of an individual who perceives himself surrounded with enemies of the most formidable character, who feels his own weakness and insufficiency to enter into conflict with them, but who is eagerly looking for the arrival of a devoted and powerful friend, who has promised to succor him in the hour of his calamity.” —Dr. Morison.
124.Deal with thy servant according to thy goodness. The two clauses of this verse must be read correctly; for he does not first separately desire God to deal well with him, and next desire him to be his master and teacher. He rather beseeches him in the exercise of that goodness and mercy, which he is wont to display towards all his people, to instruct him in his law. The object of the Prophet’s request then is, that God would teach him in his statutes. But he begins with the divine mercy, employing it as an argument to prevail with God to grant him what he desires. This prayer then must be resolved thus: Lord, deal gently with me, and manifest thy goodness towards me by instructing me in thy commandments. Our whole happiness undoubtedly consists in our having that true wisdom which is to be derived from the word of God; and our only hope of obtaining this wisdom lies in God’s being pleased to display his mercy and goodness towards us. The Prophet, therefore, magnifies the greatness and excellence of the benefit of being instructed in the divine law, when he requests that it may be bestowed upon him as a free gift.
125.I am thy servant, give me understanding. Here the prayer of the preceding verse is repeated. The repetition shows how ardently he wished the blessing prayed for, and how earnest and importunate he was in pleading with God for it. By the words he expresses still more plainly in what way it is that God teaches his own people — that he does so by illuminating with sound knowledge their understandings, which otherwise would be blind. It would profit us little to have the divine law sounding in our ears, or to have it exhibited in writing before our eyes, and to have it expounded by the voice of man, did not God correct our slowness of apprehension, and render us docile by the secret influence of his Spirit. We are not to suppose that David advances any meritorious claims before God when he boasts of being his servant. Men, indeed, commonly imagine that when we are previously well prepared, God then adds new grace, which they term subsequent grace. But the Prophet, so far from boasting of his own worth, rather declares how deep the obligations were under which he lay to God. It is not in the power of any man to make himself a servant of the Most High, nor can any man bring anything of his own as a price with which to purchase so great an honor. Of this the Prophet was well aware. He knew that there is not one of the whole human family who is worthy of being enrolled among that order; and therefore he does nothing more than adduce the grace he had obtained, as an argument that God according to his usual way would perfect what he had begun. In a similar manner he speaks in Psalms 116:6,
“I am thy servant and the son of thine handmaid:”
in which place it is abundantly manifest that he does not boast of his services, but only declares that he is one of the members of the Church.
126.It is time for thee, O Jehovah! to be doing. It being the object of the Prophet to imprecate upon the impious and wicked the vengeance which they have deserved, he says, that the fit time for executing it had now arrived, inasmuch as they had carried to a great extent their wanton forwardness against God. The general verb doing is more emphatic than if one more specific had been used. The language is as if he had said, that God would seem to delay too long, if he did not now execute the office of a judge. It is the peculiar work of God to restrain the wicked, and even to punish them severely when he finds that their repentance is utterly hopeless. If it is alleged, that this prayer is inconsistent with the law of charity, it may be replied, that David here speaks of reprobates, whose amendment is become desperate. His heart, there is no doubt, was governed by the spirit of wisdom. Besides, it is to be remembered, that he does not complain of his own private wrongs. It is a pure and honest zeal which moves him to desire the destruction of the wicked despisers of God; for he adduces no other reason for the prayer, than that the wicked destroyed God’s law. By this he gives evidence, that nothing was dearer to him than the service of God, and that nothing was held by him in higher recommendation than the observance of the law. I have already repeatedly warned you, in other places, that our zeal is forward and disordered whenever its moving principle is a sense of our own personal injuries. It is, therefore, to be carefully noticed, that the Prophet’s grief proceeded from no other cause than that he could not endure to see the divine law violated. In short, this is a prayer that God would restore to order the confused and ruinous state of things in the world. It remains for us to learn from David’s example, whenever the earth is fraught and defiled with wickedness to such a degree that the fear of him has become almost extinct, to call upon him to show himself the maintainer of his own glory. This doctrine is of use in sustaining our hope and patience whenever God suspends the execution of his judgments longer than we would incline. Previous to his addressing himself to God, the Prophet adopts it as a principle, that, although God may seem for a time to false no notice of what his creatures do, yet he never forgets his office, but delays the execution of his judgments for wise reasons, that at length he may execute them when the seasonable time arrives.
127.And therefore I have loved thy statutes above gold. This verse, I have no doubt, is connected with the preceding; for otherwise the illative particle therefore would be without meaning. Viewing it in this connection, I understand the Psalmist as intimating, that the reason why he esteemed God’s law as more valuable than gold and precious stones, was because he had fixed in his mind a thorough persuasion of the truth, that although God may connive for a time at wickedness, the making havoc of all uprightness and equity will not always remain unpunished. Yea, the more he saw the wicked outrageously breaking forth into wickedness, the more was he incited by a holy indignation burning in his heart, to love the law. This is a passage deserving of special attention, for the baneful influence of evil example is well known, every man thinking that he may lawfully do whatever is commonly practiced around him. Whence it comes to pass, that evil company carries us away like a tempest. The more diligently then ought we to meditate on this doctrine, That when the wicked claim to themselves an unbridled liberty, it behoves us to contemplate with the eyes of faith the judgments of God, in order to our being thereby quickened to the observance of the divine law. If attention to this doctrine has been needful from the beginning, at the present day it is necessary to exert ourselves, that we may not be involved in violating the law of God with the wicked conspiracy which almost the whole world have formed to violate it. The more outrageously the wicked vaunt themselves, let our veneration for and our love of the divine law proportionally increase.
128.Therefore I have esteemed all thy commandments to be altogether right (7) This verse, like the preceding, is connected with the 26th, and the connection may be brought out by observing, that the Prophet, waiting patiently for God’s judgments, and also earnestly calling for their infliction, had subscribed to the law of God in every particular, and embraced it without a single exception — and moreover, that he hated every false way. Literally, it is all the commandments of all; but the words of all are to be referred to things and not to persons, as if he had said, that he approved of all the laws which God had ordained, whatever they enjoined. (8) A similar form of expression occurs in Ezekiel 44:30, “all oblations of all things” — that is to say, whatever kind of oblations men offer. The Prophet has not laid down this sentiment in such express terms without good reason; for there is nothing to which we are naturally more inclined than to despise or reject whatever in God’s law is not agreeable to us. Every man, according as he is tainted with this or that particular vice, would desire their the commandment which forbids it were razed out of the law. But we cannot lawfully make any addition to it, or take away anything from it; and since God has joined his commandments together by a sacred and inviolable bond, to separate any one of them from the rest is altogether unwarrantable. We perceive then how the Prophet, inspired with a holy jealousy for the law, contended against the wicked rebellion of those who despised it. And assuredly, when we see that the ungodly mock God with such effrontery, at one time rising up audaciously against him, trod at another perverting every part of the law, it becomes us to be the more inflamed with zeal, and to be the more courageous in maintaining the truth of God. The extreme impiety of our age especially demands of all the faithful that they should exercise themselves in this holy zeal. Profane men strive to outdo one another in scornfully aspersing the doctrine of salvation, and endeavor to bring God’s sacred Word into contempt by their derisive jeers. Others pour forth their blasphemies without intermission. We cannot, therefore, avoid being chargeable with the crime of treacherous indifference, if our hearts are not warmed with zeal, and unless we burn with a holy jealousy. The Prophet not merely says, that he approved of God’s law wholly and without exception, but he adds, that he hated every way of lying, or every false way. And, undoubtedly, no one subscribes in good earnest to the law of God, but he who rejects all the slanders by which the wicked taint or obscure the purity of sound doctrine. By way of lying, the Prophet doubtless means whatever is opposed to the purity of the law, intimating that he detested all corruption’s which are contrary to the Word of God.
(7) Durell translates this verse — “For, as much as I esteem all thy precepts, etc., therefore I hate,” etc.
(8) “All the precepts of everything, i.e., all precepts concerning all things. I embrace thy revealed Word, without any exceptions. The Psalmist states, that he had most diligently applied his mind to the consideration of all God’s commandments, the circumstances and occasions on which they were given, and he observed that they abounded in justice and holiness. Since, therefore, they are all equally just and holy, whatsoever is contrary to them he regarded as unjust, impure, false and detestable. Hammond remarks, that ‘the reduplication of the universal particle
129.Thy testimonies are marvelous. I have given this translation to avoid an ambiguous form of expression. The Prophet does not simply mean, that the doctrine of the law is wonderful, but that it contains high and hidden mysteries. Accordingly he declares, that the sublime and admirable wisdom which he found comprehended in the divine law led him to regard it with reverence. This is to be carefully marked, for the law of God is proudly despised by the great majority of mankind, when they do not duly taste its doctrine, nor acknowledge that God speaks from his throne in heaven, that, the pride of the flesh being abased, he may raise us upward by the apprehension of faith. We also gather from this passage, that it is impossible for any man to keep the law of God from the heart, unless he contemplate it with feelings of reverence: for reverence is the beginning of pure and right subjection. Accordingly, I have said that many despise God’s Word, because they think it inferior to the acuteness of their own understandings. Yea, many are led to break forth more audaciously into this heaven-daring contempt, from the vanity of showing their own ingenuity. But, although worldly men may flatter themselves in that proud disdain of the divine law, yet the commendation which the Prophet pronounces upon it still holds true, that it comprehends mysteries which far transcend all the conceptions of the human mind.
130.The entrance of thy word is light. The amount is, that the light of the truth revealed in God’s word, is so distinct that the very first sight of it illuminates the mind. The word
In the second clause the Prophet unfolds his meaning more fully. By little ones he denotes such as neither excel in ingenuity nor are endued with wisdom, but rather are unskilled in letters, and unrefined by education. Of such he affirms that, as soon as they have learned the first principles of the law of God, they will be endued with understanding. It ought to have a most powerful influence in exciting in us an earnest desire to become acquainted with the law of God, when we are told that even those who, in the estimation of the world, are fools, and contemptible simpletons, provided they apply their minds to this subject, acquire from it wisdom sufficient to lead them to eternal salvation. Although it is not given to all men to attain to the highest degree in this wisdom, yet it is common to all the godly to profit so far as to know the certain and unerring rule by which to regulate their life. Thus no man who surrenders himself to the teaching of God, will loose his labor in his school, for from his first entrance he will reap inestimable fruit. Meanwhile we are warned, that all who follow their own understanding, wander in darkness. By affirming that the little ones are enlightened, David intimates, that it is only when men, divested of all self confidence, submit themselves with humble and docile minds to God, that they are in a proper state for becoming proficient scholars in the study of the divine law. Let the Papists mock, as they are accustomed to do, because we would have the Scriptures to be read by all men without exception; yet it is no falsehood which God utters by the mouth of David, when he affirms that the light of his truth is exhibited to fools. God will not, therefore, disappoint the desire of such as acknowledge their own ignorance, and submit themselves humbly to his teaching.
131.I opened my mouth and panted. (11) By these words the Psalmist would have us to understand that he was inflamed with such love to and longing for the divine law, that he was unceasingly sighing after it. In comparing himself to such as are hungry, or to such as burn with parching thirst, he has used a very appropriate metaphor. As such persons indicate the vehemence of their desire by opening the mouth, and by distressful panting, as if they would suck up the whole air, even so the Prophet affirms that he himself was oppressed with continual uneasiness. The opening of the mouth, then, and the drawing of breath, are set in opposition to a cold assent to the word of God. Here the Holy Spirit teaches with what earnestness of soul the knowledge of divine truth is to be sought. Whence it follows, that such as make little or no proficiency in God’s law, are punished by their own indolence or carelessness. When David affirms that he panted continually, he points out not only his ardor but also his constancy.
(11) The allusion, according to some, is to an exhausted or thirsty traveler in hot countries, who gasps and pants for the cooling breeze, or the refreshing fountain. According to others this is a metaphor, taken from an exhausted animal in the chase, which runs open-mouthed, to take in the cooling air, the heart beating high, and the muscular force being nearly expended through fatigue. In either view the language is extremely expressive, showing how intensely the Psalmist longed for the refreshment and delight which an acquaintance with the word of God affords. And if the “opening of God’s words,” mentioned in the preceding verse, means the expounding of them, David here points out his eager desire to hear God’s word expounded.
132.Look upon me, and be merciful to me. In this verse he beseeches God to have a regard to him: as he is accustomed always to look to those who are his people. The Hebrew word
(12) “According to the custom, or usual mode of acting. So Luther —as thou art accustomed to do, etc. In Genesis 40:13 — ‘Thou shalt deliver the cup,
133.Direct my steps according to thy word. By these words he shows, as he has often done before in other places, that the only rule of living well is for men to regulate themselves wholly by the law of God. We have already repeatedly seen in this Psalm, that so long as men allow there-selves to wander after their own inventions, God rejects whatever they do, however laborious the efforts they may put forth. But as the Prophet declares that men’s lives are then only framed aright when they yield themselves wholly to the obeying of God, so, on the other hand, he confesses that to do this is not within their own will or power. God’s law, it is evident, will not make us better by merely prescribing to us what is right. Hence the outward preaching of it is compared to a dead letter. David, then, well instructed in the law, prays for an obedient heart being given him, that he may walk in the way set before him. Here two points are particularly deserving of our notice — first, that God deals bountifully with men, when he invites them to himself by his word and doctrine; and, secondly, that still all this is lifeless and unprofitable, until he govern by his Spirit those whom he has already taught by his word. As the Psalmist desires not simply to have his steps directed, but to have them directed to God’s word, we may learn that he did not hunt after secret revelations, and set the word at nought, as many fanatics do, but connected the external doctrine with the inward grace of the Holy Spirit; and herein consists the completeness of the faithful, in that God engraves on their hearts what he shows by his word to be right. Nothing, therefore, is more foolish than the fancy of those who say, that in enjoining upon men what he would have them to do, God estimates the strength which they have to perform it. In vain does divine truth sound in our ears, if the Spirit of God does not effectually pierce into our hearts. The Prophet confesses that it is to no purpose for him to read or hear the law of God, unless his life is regulated by the secret influence of the Holy Spirit, that he may thus be enabled to walk in that righteousness which the law enjoins. In the second clause he reminds us how necessary it is for us to be continually presenting this prayer at the throne of grace, acknowledging that he is the bond-slave of sin until God stretch forth his hand to deliver him. direct me, says he, that iniquity may not have dominion in me. (13) So long, then, as we are left to ourselves, Satan exercises’, over us his despotic sway uncontrolled, so that we have not power to rid ourselves of iniquity. The freedom of the godly consists solely in this — that they are governed by the Spirit of God, and thus preserved from succumbing to iniquity, although harassed with hard and painful conflicts.
134.Deliver me from the oppression of men. When recounting what had befallen himself, the Prophet shows, by his own example, that all the godly are exposed to rapine and oppression, and that, like sheep in the mouths of wolves, they will be inevitably destroyed unless God defend them. As very few are governed by the Spirit of God, it is no wonder if all love of equity is banished from the world, and if all men are found everywhere rushing into all kinds of wickedness, some impelled by cruelty, (14) and others devoted to fraud and deceit. When, therefore, the Prophet saw that he was overwhelmed on all sides with injuries, he betook himself to God as his deliverer. By the word deliver he intimates, that unless he is preserved in a wonderful manner, it is all over with him. In the second clause, he engages that he will not prove ungrateful for his deliverance: And I will keep thy precepts Nothing more effectually strengthens us, in an earnest desire and endeavor to follow after integrity and righteousness, than when we find by experience, that God’s defense is of more value to us than all the unlawful helps to which worldly men unusually have recourse. We are taught from this passage, that when engaged in contest with the wicked, we ought not to suffer our minds to be actuated by malice, but that, however violently and unjustly they may assault us, we should rest; contented with the deliverance which God bestows, and with that alone; and again, that every instance in which we experience the grace of God in delivering us, should be a spur to incite us to follow after uprightness. He delivers us for no other end, but that the fruits of our deliverance may be manifested in our life; and we are too perverse if that experience is not sufficient to convince us, that all who persevere in the unfeigned fear of God, will always abide in safety by his aid, although the whole world may be against them.
(14) In the French version it is “avarice.”
135.Make thy face to shine upon thy servant. There is here the repetition of a prayer which we have several times met with before in this Psalm. The Prophet intimates, that he regarded nothing as of more importance than rightly to understand the divine law. When he beseeches God to make his face to shine upon his servant, he, in the first place, seeks to win the fatherly favor of God — for nothing is to be hoped for from Him unless we have an interest in his favor — but he at the same time, shows the greatness of the blessing. There is no testimony of the love of God, as if he had said, which I am more desirous to obtain than to be enabled to make progress in his law. Whence we gather, as I have lately observed, that he preferred divine truth to all the possessions of the world. Would to God that this affection were vigorous in our hearts! But that which the Prophet extols so highly, is neglected by the great proportion of mankind. If individuals are to be found stimulated by this desire, we see them presently falling back to the Measurements of the world, so that there are very few, indeed, who renouncing all other desires, seek earnestly with David to become acquainted with the doctrine of the law. Besides, as God vouchsafes this privilege only to those whom he has embraced with his fatherly love, it is proper for us to begin with this prayer, That he would make his face to shine upon us. This form of expression, however, conveys something more — it implies, that it is only when God illumines the minds of his believing people with the true knowledge of the law, that he delights them with the beams of his favor. It often happens that, even in regard to them, God’s countenance is overcast with clouds in this respect, namely, when he deprives them of tasting the sweetness of his word.
136.Rivers of waters run from my eyes. (15) Here David affirms that he was inflamed with no ordinary zeal for the glory of God, inasmuch as he dissolved wholly into tears on account of the contempt put upon the divine law. He speaks hyperbolically; but still he truly and plainly expresses the disposition of mind with which he was endued; and it corresponds with what he says in altogether place, “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” (Psalms 69:9.) Wherever the Spirit of God reigns, he excites this ardent zeal, which burns the hearts of the godly when they see the commandment of the Most High God accounted as a thing of nought. It is not enough that each of us endeavor to please God; we must also desire that his law may be held in estimation by all men. In this way holy Lot, as the Apostle Peter testifies, vexed his soul when he beheld Sodom a sink of all kinds of wickedness. (2 Peter 2:8.) If, in former times, the ungodliness of the world extorted from the children of God such bitter grief, so great is the corruption into which we at this day are fallen, that those who can look upon the present state of things unconcerned and without tears, are thrice, yea four times, insensible. How great in our day is the frenzy of the world in despising God and neglecting his doctrine? A few, no doubt, are to be found who with the mouth profess their willingness to receive it, but scarcely one in ten proves the sincerity of his profession by his life. Meanwhile countless multitudes are hurried away to the impostures of Satan and to the Pope; others are as thoughtless and indifferent about their salvation as the lower animals; (16) and many Epicureans openly mock at all religion. If there is, then, the smallest portion of piety remaining in us, full rivers of tears, and not merely small drops, will flow from our eyes. But if we would give evidence of pure and uncorrupted zeal, let our grief begin at ourselves — at our seeing that we are yet far from having attained to a perfect observance of the law; yea, that the depraved lusts of our carnal nature are often rising up against the righteousness of God.
(15) Rivers of waters — that is, a great profusion of tears. “The Orientals are in general very copious weepers; and this strong hyperbole is still much employed among them to express the highest degree of lamenting grief.” — Illustrated Commentary upon the Bible.
137.O Jehovah! thou art righteous. The Prophet yields to God the praise of righteousness, and also acknowledges that it is to be found in his law. Some understandjudgments as referring to those infliction’s by which God chastises the sins of men; but this does not seem so fitly to agree with the scope of the passage. Besides, as the adjective
139.My zeal hath consumed me. (17) The Psalmist speaks of his persecutors, by whom it is certain he had been subjected to much trouble. But although they were virulent and cruel towards him, he avows that it was not so much his own private wrongs which offended him as the violation of God’s law; yea rather, that he was so consumed with grief on that account as not to be affected at all with his own individual troubles. This is an example from which much profit may be derived. We are too tender and delicate in bearing wrongs; and hence it is that if we are but touched with a finger, we are instantly inflamed with anger, whilst at the same time we are but coldly affected at the most grievous offenses committed against God. But if we are animated with the zeal that inspired the Prophet it will carry us away to another kind of sorrow, which will take entire possession of our souls.
(17) “Hath consumed me. The strong term here made use of corresponds very well with the forcible language of the preceding verse. My zeal for thy word is so great, that when I see how my enemies disregard it, I am overpowered by feelings of shame at their neglect.” —Phillips.
140.Thy word is exceedingly refined. In this verse he intimates that the cause of his zeal was the love which he bore to heavenly doctrine. For to be displeased with or severely to condemn the contempt of divine truth, unless we are bound to it by the cords of love, is pure hypocrisy. And he affirms that his love to God’s word was not a rash, or a blind and inconsiderate affection, but that he loved it, because like gold or silver which has been refined, it was pure and free from all dregs and dross. This is the idea contained in the metaphorical term
(18) Dr. Adam Clarke translates
“Now ye are clean,” said Christ,
“by the word which I have spoken unto you.” (John 15:3.)
This tendency of the word to impart a measure of its own purity to such as yield to its influence, endears it to all God’s people; and for this reason they make it the subject of their constant meditation.
141.I am, insignificant and despised. The meaning is, that although he was tried with poverty and many other calamities, he steadily persevered in the exercise of true godliness, and in the observance of the law. On that account, as he states, he was despised by wicked men. Every man gives praise to God just in proportion as he is gorged with his benefits; and very few will be found applying their minds to the service of God, unless they have all their wishes gratified. Hence it comes to pass that hypocrites, as long as they are pampered to the full, accumulate riches and increase in power, are very lavish in praising God. But let them be treated in some degree roughly, and immediately the blessed name of God is heard of no more. Since then men are ordinarily mercenary in serving God, let us learn from the Prophet’s example that true godliness is disinterested, so that when under its influence we cease not to praise God, although he may afflict us with adversity and make us despised in the eyes of the world. These upbraiding words of Christ in John 6:26, ought, no doubt, to be carefully attended to,
“Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.” (John 6:26)
The persons then who serve God ingenuously and sincerely, are such as continue steadfast in his fear, although their condition in this world may be mean and despised; in short, they are such as seek not their reward on earth, but through heat and cold, poverty and danger, slanders and mockeries, persevere with unwearied steps in the course of their warfare.
142.Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness. Here the law of God is honored by the additional encomium, that it is everlasting righteousness and truth; as if it had been said, that all other rules of life, with whatever attractions they may appear to be recommended, are but a shadow, which quickly vanishes away. The Psalmist, no doubt, indirectly contrasts the doctrine of the law with all the human precepts which were ever delivered, that he may bring all the faithful in subjection to it, since it is the school of perfect wisdom. There may be more of plausibility in the refined and subtle disquisition’s of men; but there is in them nothing firm or solid at bottom, as there is in God’s law. This firmness of the divine law he proves in the following verse from one instance — the continual comfort he found in it when grievously harassed with temptations. And the true test of the profit we have reaped from it is, when we oppose to all the distresses of whatever kind which may straiten us, the consolation derived from the word of God, that thereby all sadness may be effaced from our minds. David here expresses something more than he did in the preceding verse; for there he only said that he reverently served God, although from his rough and hard treatment he might seem to lose his labor; but now when distressed and tormented, he affirms that he finds in the law of God the most soothing delight, which mitigates all grief’s, and not only tempers their bitterness, but also seasons them with a certain sweetness. And assuredly when this taste does not exist to afford us delight, nothing is more natural than for us to be swallowed up of sorrow. Nor ought we to omit noticing the form of expression which the Prophet employs, by which he teaches, that although he was besieged and shut up on all sides, he found a remedy sufficiently powerful in improving the consolation offered him by the word of God. As this could not be true of the bare commandments, which so far from remedying our distresses, rather fill us with anxiety, there is no doubt that under the word commandments there is comprehended by the figure synecdoche, the whole doctrine of the law, in which God not only requires what is right, but in which also calling his elect ones to the hope of eternal salvation, he opens the gate of perfect happiness. Yea, under the term law are comprehended both free adoption, and also the promises which flow from it.
144.The righteousness of thy testimonies endureth forever. The Psalmist repeats what he had already before stated, that there is a great dissimilarity between the righteousness of God’s testimonies and man’s inventions; the splendor of the last quickly vanishing away, whereas the other continues steadfast for ever. He repeats this twice; for although the world is forced to attribute the praise of righteousness to the law of God, yet the majority of mankind are carried away after their own speculations, so that there is nothing more difficult than to hold us fast in our obedience to God. David’s drift is to show that everlasting righteousness is not comprehended elsewhere than in God’s law, and that it is in vain to seek for it anywhere else; and there is accordingly here laid down a clearer definition of righteousness, which is, that righteousness consists in our keeping ourselves within the bounds of the law. As to the last clause of the verse, Give me understanding and I shall live, I read it in connection with the preceding clause; for although David desires to have his mind enlightened by God, yet he does not conceive of any other way by which he was to obtain an enlightened understanding than by his profiting aright in the study of the law. Farther, he here teaches, that men cannot, properly speaking, be said to live when they are destitute of the light of heavenly wisdom; and as the end for which men are created is not that, like swine or asses, they may stuff their bellies, but that they may exercise themselves in the knowledge and service of God, when they turn away from such employment, their life is worse than a thousand deaths. David therefore protests that for him to live was not merely to be fed with meat and drink, and to enjoy earthly comforts, but to aspire after a better life, which he could not do save under the guidance of faith. This is a very necessary warning; for although it is universally acknowledged that man is born with this distinction, that he excels the lower animals in intelligence, yet the great bulk of mankind, as if with deliberate purpose: stifle whatever light God pours into their understandings. I indeed admit that all men desire to be sharp-witted; but how few aspire to heaven, and consider that the fear of,God is the beginning of wisdom. Since then meditation upon the celestial life is buried by earthly cares, men do nothing else than plunge into the grave, so that while living to the world, they die to God. Under the term life, however, as I have elsewhere said, the Prophet denotes the utmost he could wish. Lord, as if he had said, although I am already dead, yet if thou art pleased to illumine my mind with the knowledge of heavenly truth, this grace alone will be sufficient to revive me.
145I have cried with my whole heart. This verse may be so read and connected as that in the end of it the Psalmist may show what he desired in crying; (20) and thus the meaning would be, that as he was inflamed with an intense desire to keep the law, he continually made supplication to God on that subject. But the subsequent verse compels us to take a different view, for the same thing is, no doubt, there again repeated. The Prophet then requests that God would hear him; and in token of his gratitude he promises to keep God’s commandments. He simply uses the indefinite term cry; and thus he does not express what the prayers were which he offered up to God, but only shows, that while the children of this world are distracted by a multiplicity of objects, he directed all the affections of his heart exclusively to God, because he depended solely on him. As the world is compelled to acknowledge that God is the author of all good things, many formal prayers proceed from that principle. It was the consideration of this which led David to affirm that he prayed with his whole heart. When he shall have obtained his requests, he proposes to himself the glory of God as his end, resolving to devote himself with so much the more ardent affection to the work of serving him. Although God declares that he is served aright by the sacrifice of praise, yet David, to distinguish himself from hypocrites who profane the name of God by their cold and feigned praises, with good reason declares that he will give thanks by his life and works.
In the following verse he makes no new statement; but he speaks more expressly. In the first place, he says that he cried to God; and next he adds, that he commended his welfare to Him by prayer; thereby intimating that whether he was in safety, or whether imminent danger threatened him with death, he uniformly reposed upon God, being fully persuaded that the only way in which he could continue safe was by having him for the guardian and protector of his welfare.
(20) According to this view, the last clause would read, “that I may keep thy statutes.”
147.I have prevented the twilight. The Hebrew noun
“let our requests be made known unto God with thanksgiving,” (Philippians 4:6)
admonishes us, while engaged in the exercise of prayer, to bridle our turbulent affections, because one of the ends of prayer is to nourish our hope. Nor is the mention made of the word in the close of the verse superfluous; for it is only by having the Word of God continually before our eyes, that we can bridle the wanton impetuosity of our corrupt nature.
148.My eyes have prevented the night watchers. (21) The Psalmist here intimates, that he was more sedulously intent on meditating upon the law of God than watchmen of the night were to keep watch. Others are of opinion, that the verb
(21) The Hebrews divided the natural day into three portions--morning, noon, and evening — which are mentioned by David as seasons in which he engaged in prayer. (Psalms 55:17.) They also divided the night into three parts, called “watches,” consisting of four hours each, and commencing at our six o’clock in the evening. In Lamentations 2:19, we read of the first watch; or, as it is there designated, “the beginning of the watches;” in Judges 7:19, of “the middle watch;” and in Exodus 14:24, of “the morning watch.” A similar division of the night seems to have been made by other ancient nations, as appears from the references made to it by Homer and the early Greek writers. The Greeks and Romans, however, in improving their military discipline, afterwards divided the night into four watches, each consisting of three hours; and when the Jews fell under the dominion of the latter people, they adopted from them this division of the night. Hence we read of “the fourth watch of the night” in Matthew 14:25. And the four watches are mentioned together in Mark 13:35:
“Watch ye therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at cock-crowing,
or in the morning.”
The time at which each of these four watches began and ended is thus determined by Dr. Hales, who has written elaborately on the subject: “1.
“When the Psalmist here declares, that his eyes prevented the nightwatches, we are to understand him as chiefly referring to the middle and morning watches, which falling at that period of the night when men in general are devoted to rest, envinced the strength, fervour, and self-sacrificing character of his devotions.” — Dr. Morison.
149.Hear my voice, O Jehovah! according to thy mercy. In the first place he declares, that the goodness of God was the only ground of his hope of being heard by him. Whatever blessings the saints may plead for in prayer, their opening argument must be the free and unmerited grace of God. Nor is the term judgments (22) in the second clause to be taken in a different sense. As God has revealed his goodness in his word, his word is the source from which we must derive our assurance of his goodness. The Prophet, then, sensible that he had need of the divine mercy, betook himself directly to the word, in which God, sweetly alluring men to himself, promises that his grace will be ready and open for all. That each, therefore, may be confidently persuaded that God will be merciful to him in particular, let him learn from the example of the Prophet to entreat God to show himself such as he has promised to be. Some expound the word judgments by manner or custom; (23) because, God’s usual way is to deal graciously with all his people. I would not altogether reject this exposition; but I think it is harsh and foreign to the scope of the text, while the meaning which I have adduced comes out very naturally. Moreover, he desires to be quickened, to testify that even in the, midst of life he is dead, except in so far as he is sustained by the power of God. And assuredly, all who are duly acquainted with their own infirmity, esteeming their life as nothing, will crave to be quickened every moment. It is also to be added, that God often so exercised his servant, that with good reason he might send up his prayers, as it were, out of the sepulcher, to be restored from death to life.
(22) By “judgments,” Calvin means “God’s Word,” as the reader will observe from what follows.
(23) Walford translates, “Revive me, e Jehovah! according to thy wonted manner.”
150.The pursuers of malice have drawn near. As the Hebrew word
151.Thou, O Jehovah! art near. He encourages himself from the consolatory consideration, that God, when he sees his own people sore pressed, comes forward, seasonably to afford them succor; even as Paul on this subject says,
“Be not over-careful, the Lord is at hand, let your moderation be known to all men ”
The concluding sentence of the verse is to this effect, That God never forsakes nor disappoints his people in their necessity, because he is true to his promises; and in them he assures us, that the welfare of his people will always be the object of his care. That therefore we may be fully persuaded that the hand of God is always ready to repulse the assaults of our enemies, let us retain a settled belief of the truth, that he does not in vain promise in his word to be the guardian of our welfare.
152. I have known from thy testimonies (24) from the beginning. Others here translate, I have known long ago of thy testimonies. (25) This translation I would not directly reject; but I am more inclined to retain the sense which I have given, namely, That the Prophet not only knew the everlasting steadfastness which characterizes the testimonies of God; but that he had also derived this knowledge from the testimonies themselves. When the Hebrews would express the meaning conveyed by the Latin preposition de, they frequently use the particle
(25) Walford’s rendering is, “I have known thy testimonies long since.” Phillips translates “of old;” and gives this explanation, “I have been acquainted with thy testimonies ever since I have possessed any knowledge, i.e. as soon as I came to years of reflection.
‘From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures.’
2 Timothy 3:15.”
(26) Thou hast established them for ever. That is, thy revelations are unalterable and everlasting, as the attributes of their great Author, and can never fail those who rely upon them, in time, or in eternity.” —Warner on the Psalter.
153.Behold my affliction and rescue me. The Psalmist teaches by his own example that those who are devoted to the service and fear of God, must not be discouraged though they are not rewarded for it in this world. Their condition upon earth is one of warfare, and therefore they should not be dismayed by diversity, but rather rest satisfied with the consolatory consideration, that the gate of prayer is open to them. Yet the Prophet does not boast of his, endeavors to keep the law, as if he would have God to pay him wages for his service, but only to show that he was one of God’s servants, just as he has spoken of his hope that he was so in other places. This reason, for I have not forgotten thy law, on account of which he beseeches God to consider his affliction and to rescue him, is peculiarly forcible in the present case; for it is an evidence of no ordinary courage when, instead of being led away from the fear of God by adversity, we wrestle against temptations and seek him even when he seems purposely to drive us away from him.
154.Debate thy cause, and redeem me. In this verse David specifics the kind of his affliction, which was the wrongful and harassing treatment which he met with at the hands of evil and unprincipled men. The reading literally is, Plead my cause, which is the same thing as to undertake a cause, or to take the charge of defending one in judgment, or to maintain the right of the oppressed. In the first place the Prophet in invoking God to defend his cause, shows that he is wrongfully oppressed, either by violence, calumnies, or crafty policies; and in seeking to be redeemed, he intimates that he was unable to make any resistance, or that he was so entangled in their snares, as to have no remaining hope except in the deliverance of God. In the second clause the letter
155Safety is far from the wicked. Fully persuaded that the world is governed by the secret providence of God, who is a just judge, the Prophet draws from that source the doctrine, That the wicked are far removed from safety, and safety from them. Hence proceeds the confidence of prayer; for as God is turned away from the despisers of his word, so he is ready to succor his servants. It is to be noticed, that when the Prophet saw that his enemies were elated by their prosperity, he on the contrary lifted up his heart by faith that thus he might come to the settled persuasion that all their delights were cursed and tended to destruction. Whenever then the wicked prosper in the world according to their wishes, so that being pampered to the full they exult in their own fatness, let us learn, in order to defend ourselves, to lay hold upon this buckler which the Holy Spirit is holding out to us, namely, that they shall at length miserably perish, because they seek not the commandments of God. From this we draw a contrary doctrine, That although genuine believers, whilst they walk sincerely in the fear of God may be as sheep appointed to the slaughter, yet their salvation, which is under the special care and protection of God’s secret providence, is just at hand. In this sense the Prophet adds in the following verse,
156.O Jehovah,! thy tender mercies are many; as if he had said that no offenders are safe but those who betake themselves to the divine mercy. Farther, to encourage himself to approach God with the greater confidence, he not only says that God is merciful, but he mightily magnifies and extols his compassion’s. From this we gather that he was so contented with them, as not to seek any aid from his own merits. It is however at the same time to be noted, that the Prophet was far from being lightly troubled with many temptations, seeing he was forced to oppose to them this vast abundance of mercy. It makes little difference whether we read great or many The prayer which follows, Quicken me according to thy judgments, I explain as referring to the promises. The original word for judgment is by some translated manner or custom; but I have already shown above that such a translation is less suitable than the other. The Prophet then again confirms the truth, That life cannot be hoped for or asked from God, unless hope is produced by his word; and he often repeats this truth, because it is one of which we are marvelously forgetful. But that we may boldly appropriate to ourselves all the grace which God promises to his servants, let the doctrine of the great and manifold tender mercies of God be ever present to our thoughts. If we imagine that God makes his promises because he is bound to do it, or because we have deserved it, doubting or mistrust will steal upon our minds, which will shut the gate against our prayers. But if we are thoroughly persuaded that the sole cause by which God is moved to promise us salvation is the mercy inherent in his own nature, we will approach him without hesitation or doubt, because he has bound himself to us of his own accord.
157.My persecutors and oppressors are many. The Psalmist here as in other places testifies, that although he had been provoked by many injuries, yet he had not departed from the right way; which, as I have elsewhere observed, was an evidence of great and singular constancy. It is an easy matter to act well when we are among the good; but if wicked men afflict us, if one man openly assault us by force, if another rob us of our property, if a third circumvent us by wiles, and a fourth attack us by calumnies, it is difficult for us to persevere in our integrity, and we rather begin to howl among the wolves. Besides, the license which is allowed them of doing what they please without the fear of being punished, is a powerful engine for shaking our faith, because, when God thus winks at the wicked, he seems to abandon us for a prey. The Prophet therefore, by God’s testimonies, means not only the rule of holy and righteous living, but also the promises. Lord, as if he had said, I have not turned away from the path of integrity, although the conduct of the wicked has presented me with a temptation to do so; nor have I shaken off nay confidence in thy grace, but have waited patiently for thy succor. Both these are necessary. For although he who has suffered wrongs may contend against the malice of his enemies by his well — doing, and may refrain from every act of retaliation, yet, provided he does not depend wholly upon God, this uprightness will not be sufficient to save him. Not that any man behaves himself in a manner so moderate, except he who leans upon God and waits upon him as his deliverer; but granting that such could be the ease, there would not be sufficient power in this half virtue to save him. The salvation of God is reserved for the faithful who ask it in the exercise of lively faith. And whoever, persuaded that God will be his deliverer, pillars and supports his mind on the divine promises, will endeavor also to overcome evil with good.
158.I saw the perfidious and child them. In this verse the Psalmist proceeds yet farther, declaring that he was inflamed with a holy zeal when he saw the law of God despised by the wicked. Expositors are not however agreed as to one word in the text, namely the verb
159.Behold, O Jehovah how I have loved thy commandments. What I have state before must be remembered — that when the saints speak of their own piety before God they are not chargeable with obtruding their own merits as the ground of their confidence; but they regard this as, a settled principle, that God, who distinguishes his servants from the profane and wicked, will be merciful to them because they seek him with their whole heart. Besides, an unfeigned love of God’s law is an undoubted evidence of adoption, since this love is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Prophet, therefore, although he arrogates nothing to himself, very properly adduces his own piety for the purpose, of encouraging himself to entertain the more assured hope of obtaining his request, through the grace of God which he had experienced. At the same time we are taught that there can be no true keeping of the law but what springs from free and spontaneous love. God demands voluntary sacrifices, and the commencement of a good life is to love him, as Moses declares, (Deuteronomy 10:12,)
“And now, O Israel! what doth the Lord require of thee,
but to love him.”
The same thing is also repeated in the summary of the law: (Deuteronomy 6:5,) “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” For this reason David has previously stated, that the law of God was not only precious but also delightful to him. Now as in keeping the law it behoves us to begin with voluntary obedience, so that nothing may delight us more than the righteousness of God, so on the other hand, it must not be forgotten that a sense of the free goodness of God and of his fatherly love is indispensably necessary in order to our hearts being beheld to this affection. So far are the bare commandment’s from winning men to obey them, that they rather frighten them away. Hence it is evident, that it is only when a man shall have tasted the goodness of God from the teaching of the law, that he will apply his heart to love it in return. The frequency with which the Prophet repeats the prayer, that God would quicken him, teaches us that he knew well the frailty of his own life, so that in his estimation men live only in so far as God every moment breathes life into them. Besides, it is probable that he had been continually besieged by many deaths, to the end he might the more earnestly betake himself to the fountain of life. He again rests his faith upon the goodness of God as its foundation — quicken me according to thy loving-kindness — from which we perceive how far he was from boasting of his own merits when he protested in the preceding sentence that he loved God’s law.
160.The beginning of thy word is truth. The design of the Prophet it is not difficult to perceive; but the words admit of being understood in two ways. Some interpret the noun beginning as denoting that the truth of God shines forth conspicuously in his word, immediately when we enter for the first time upon the study of it, so that this entrance may justly be called the beginning of the word. This sentence contains the profitable doctrine, that if we are finished with eyes of understanding, we will no sooner cast our eyes upon heavenly doctrine than the truth of it will meet our view. Others, however, give a different explanation, and perhaps with no less propriety, eliciting this sense, That the word of God has been from the beginning certain and infallible truth, and will continue so even to the end. These two clauses hang very well together — that God has been true to his word from the beginning, and that he will continue to be so everlastingly and immutably. The interpretation which refers the wordjudgment to the works of God and not to his doctrine, I would not altogether condemn, yet it is not in harmony with the context. Let us then retain this sense, That from the time when God began to speak he has always been faithful to his promises, and has never disappointed the hope of his people; and that the course of this faithfulness has been so uniform, that from the beginning even to the end his word is true and faithful.
161Princes have persecuted me without a cause. (34) Here the Psalmist, informs us that sore and grievous as his temptation had been, he was restrained by the fear of God from desiring to attempt anything unworthy of the character of a godly man. We are prone to fall into despair when princes who are armed with power to overwhelm us are hostile to and molest us. The evil is also aggravated from the consideration that it is the very persons who ought to be asbucklers to defend us, who employ their strength in hurting us. Yea, when the afflicted are stricken by those in high places, they in a manner think that the hand of God is against them. There was also this peculiarity in the case of the Prophet, that he had to encounter the grandees of the chosen people — men whom God had placed in such honor-able stations, to the end they might be the pillars of the Church. Some give, more restricted exposition, which is, that David followed the exhortation of Christ in Matthew 10:28,
“Fear not them who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul, but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell;”
a sentiment which although it had not as yet been uttered by Christ’s mouth, ought nevertheless to have been fixed in the hearts of all the godly. The sense, then, in their opinion is, that the Prophet had not been turned aside from the fear of God by any of the threatening or terrors of his enemies. But his commendation of his own constancy is to be understood in a more extended sense than this. The exhortation of Isaiah is well known,
“Neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid; sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” (Isaiah 8:12)
The Prophet in that place shows in general what the weapons are, with which the faithful being armed will succeed in vanquishing all the assaults of the world — he shows that they will do so, provided they not only stand in awe of God, but also rest assured that he will always be the guardian of their welfare, so that they may cast all their cares upon him. Thus it will come to pass that, resting contented with his protection, they will not turn aside to practice whatever may be sinful to secure their safety. In like manner the Prophet, in the passage before us, affirms that although being oppressed by the wrongful violence of princes, he presented a sad spectacle, yet he did not succumb, but considered what was lawful for him to do, and did not attempt to rival their wicked practices, by repelling craft with craft and violence with violence. In this text, as is evident from the connection, to be afraid at God’s word, is to restrain one’s self and to attempt nothing which is unlawful. I have already said that the adverb
(34) “David was persecuted by Saul and his associates ‘without a cause.’” —Warner on the Psalter.
162.I have rejoiced at thy word as one who hath found great spoil No gain, it is well known, brings greater joy than that which conquerors acquire from the spoil of their enemies; for to the gain there is added the glory of triumph; and when profit comes on a sudden, the delight experienced is from that circumstance the greater. This is the reason why David compares the knowledge he had obtained of heavenly doctrine with spoils rather than with other riches; for by these words he intimates that his greatest joy was derived from the word of God, to which no gain however desirable could at all approach. From this was learn that he was contented with the word of God as a thing in which was all his delight, and in which he found solid felicity; which could not be, but, in the way of his first withdrawing his heart from all depraved desires. Nor is it wonderful to find David placing the whole sum of a happy life in the word of God, in which he well knew the treasure of eternal life to be included and offered to him by means of free adoption.
163.I have hated and abhorred deceit. In this verse he declares more distinctly what I have adverted to a little before, that he was cleansed from corrupt affections that he might bestow upon the law of God such honor and estimation as it deserved. Having elsewhere met with almost the same sentence, I shall but briefly touch upon the reason why the Prophet affirms that he hated deceit before he speaks of his love and devotedness to the law. As hypocrisy is in the hearts of all men by nature, and as we are naturally prone to vanity and deceitfulness, we ought diligently to labor to purge our hearts, that the love of the law may reign in them. Now if the beginning of a good life and the first point of righteousness is to hate and abhor deceit, it follows that nothing is more excellent than integrity; for unless that virtue hold the chief place, all the other virtues speedily disappear. Nor is abhorring superfluously added to hating, the design being to teach us that it is not enough to hate falsehood with a common hatred, but that God’s children must hate it with a deadly hatred. Now if the love of the law and the hatred of falsehood are inseparably conjoined, it is a plain inference that all who are not taught in the school of God are infected with deceit and hypocrisy.
164.Seven times a day have I praised thee. By the adverb seven times, the Prophet means that he was continually or very often engaged in celebrating the praises of God; just as it is said in Proverbs 24:16, “A just man falleth seven times,” when he often falls into divers temptations. (35) The phrase the judgments of God being in many places taken for the punishments which God inflicts upon sinners, and also sometimes applied in general to the providence by which he governs the world, some understand the Prophet as praising God because he affords such manifest proofs of his justice both in punishing the wicked and in the whole government of the world. But I rather agree with others who refer the phrase to the divine law; not that I dislike the former interpretation, but because in this psalm the great topic upon which the Psalmist chiefly insists is the commendation of God’s law. The amount then is, that when David was assiduously occupied in meditating upon the law of God, he found it distinguished by so great perfection of righteousness and wisdom, that from time to time he burst forth into the exercise of praise and thanksgiving. This diligence in praising God shows that David not only spoke reverently and honourably of the divine law, but that he accounted it an inestimable boon conferred upon the human race. It was not simply admiration which constrained him to this commendation, but a principle of gratitude; for he saw that nothing more excellent could be bestowed upon men than their being renewed to a blessed and an endless life by the incorruptible seed of heavenly truth. Yet scarcely one in a hundred of those to whom God offers this treasure puts himself to the trouble of giving God thanks for it even in an ordinary manner. On the contrary, there reigns such vile ingratitude everywhere in the world, that some scornfully reject divine truth, and others despise or slight it, while others rail and gnash their teeth against it if they find anything in it which does not please them.
(35) Among many other texts of Scripture which might be quoted to show that the number seven is often used for many, or an indefinite number, we may refer only to Genesis 4:15 and Leviticus 24:18. Some of the Jewish Rabbies, however, affirm that David is here to be understood literally, observing, that the devout Hebrews were accustomed to praise God twice in the morning before reading the ten commandments, and once after; twice in the evening before reading the same portion of inspiration, and twice after; which makes up the number of seven times a day.
165.Great peace have they who love thy law. If we take the word peace for a prosperous or happy condition of life — a sense in which the Hebrews often employ it — the word rendered stumbling-block, to correspond with it, will be used for adversity; as if it had been said, that those who love God’s law shall continually prosper and retain their position, although the whole world should fall into ruins. But a different interpretation will be equally appropriate, namely, that they have great peace, because, being persuaded that both their persons and their life are acceptable to God, they calmly repose themselves on a good conscience. This tranquil state of conscience, this serenity of mind, is justly reckoned the chief point of a happy life, that is to say it is so, when it proceeds from God’s being reconciled to us, and from his fatherly favor shining in our hearts. The Prophet justly teaches that we attain this peace from the love of the law; for whoever would make it to depend upon anything else, will be from time to time trembling at every little blast. If this sense is adopted, the word stumbling-block, in the second clause, will signify all the troubles and disquietudes of mind with which all who lean not upon God’s word are miserably distressed and tormented, and with which they are driven about either by their own depraved passions, or by the caprice of other men. But in whatever way understand these two words, peace and stumbling-block, the design of the Prophet will remain the same, which is to show, that those who are not devoted to God are miserable; for although they may applaud themselves for a time, yet they will meet with many stumbling-blocks to drive them suddenly out of their course. From the term love, we gather that this peace is not acquired by a slavish observance of the law, but proceeds from faith; for the law has no sweetness to attract us to it, unless it exhibit to us God in the character of a father, and tranquilize our minds by the assurance of eternal salvation. So far from enjoying peace, all worldly men and despisers of God are justly punished by their own depravity and obdurate rebellion; for each of them is his own executioner, and the more fiercely they rage against the word of God, the sorer are they tormented, until they bring upon themselves utter destruction. The godly, it is true, are also tormented or distressed, but this inward consolation wipes away all their sorrow, or, raising them up, enables them to surmount all stumbling-blocks, or so relieves them, that they faint not.
166O Jehovah! I have waited for thy salvation. It is not without cause that the Prophet often repeats this sentence, which is in all men’s mouths, there being nothing easier than to ascribe to God the praise and office of saving, while yet there is hardly to be met with in the world a single example of steadfast hope, when men come to wrestle with temptations for any length of time. From the order of the words we learn, that if a man would keep himself in the fear of God, and the love of the law, it is necessary for him, above all things, (36) to seek for salvation in God. If faith in God’s grace be removed from our minds, or patience shaken off, we will be carried away hither and thither, and will cease any longer to cultivate godliness. The chief virtue of the faithful, therefore, is a patient endurance of the cross and mortification by which they calmly submit themselves to God; for so long as no adversity happens to hypocrites, they seem, also to be well-affectioned to the work of serving him. There are also other reasons why it behoves us to keep our minds intent upon the salvation of God, if we desire to regulate our life aright; for if the, allurements of the world hold us in their snares, we will immediately become discouraged. The reason, as we plainly see, why the hearts of the great majority fail, is because it is difficult to believe assuredly that salvation is to be hoped for only from the grace of God. That we may therefore persevere in serving God, it is indispensable that faith shine on the future before us, and next, that patience accompany us, to nourish within us the love of righteousness. For, as we have said, our alacrity in persevering proceeds from this, that with a patient spirit we suffer our salvation to lie hidden in the bosom of God, and that we doubt not of his at length, proving a faithful rewarder of all such as seek him, although he may withdraw his favor from the eye of sense. In the subsequent verse the Psalmist confirms this doctrine by other words, saying, that he kept God’s testimonies with his soul By the word soul he expresses still more forcibly than before, that he had the doctrine of the law enclosed within the deepest recesses of his heart. The cause of this peculiarly diligent keeping of the law, was the singular love which he had to it, as he states in the concluding clause of the verse. He who by constraint and in a slavish manner obeys the law, is so far from receiving it into the secret habitation of his heart to keep it there, that he would have it removed far away from him.
168.I have kept thy commandments and thy testimonies. What the Psalmist had expressed more strongly, he now repeats more simply, adding there to reason. He abbreviates the statement as made in the preceding verse only by here omitting the word soul, which he there uses, whilst to commandments he joins testimonies, in order the more distinctly to show that he does not speak exclusively of the rule of an upright and holy life, but also comprehends the whole covenant of salvation. And, assuredly, the doctrine of the law could not be so sweet and attractive from its commanding what is right, did it not at the same time exhibit the free favor of God. The reason which the Prophet assigns for his keeping God’s commandments and testimonies — for all my ways are before thee (37) — is to this effect, That the truth, which he well knew, that nothing is hidden from God, served as a bridle to keep him devoted to the cultivation of godliness; for if we live not as under the omniscient inspection of God, the fickle lustfulness of the flesh quickly carries us away now one way and now another. The meaning, also, may be this — that he made God the arbiter and judge of his life; for in Scripture language those are said to walk before God, who refer all their actions to him, and, as it were, withdrawing themselves from the sight of men, present themselves at his judgment-seat. In this way he gives us to understand that he had endeavored not only to be free from all fault and blame before men, but also to offer to God a sound and sincere heart. Whichever of these senses is adopted, he testifies that it is only when we consider that we have to deal with God, who searcheth the heart, and from whose eyes nothing is hidden, that we will observe his law aright. This concluding clause may also be a form of protestation; as if the Prophet had said, Lord, thou art the best witness of the fidelity with which I have kept thy law, for nothing is hidden from thee. But he seems rather to have intended to intimate that the principle of his holy living, was his having consecrated his life to God, and having kept his thoughts fixed on the diverse presence.
(37) “All my ways are before thee ” The meaning of this expression may be gathered from other scriptural phrases: such as ‘walking before God;’ or ‘in his sight;’ which merely signify to live holy and righteously, so as to be acceptable in his sight. God is omniscient, and, consequently, ‘all the ways’ or actions of men are ‘before him,’ or open to his knowledge and sight.” —Warner.
169.Let my cry come (38) near into thy presence. The Psalmist repeats the same sentiment which has already come under our notice — that his chief desire, and what he, most of all pressed after, regarding everything else as of secondary importance, was to make progress in the study of the divine law. By the word cry he denotes earnestness. I am anxious, as if he had said, above all things, and am chiefly inflamed with this desire, (even as it is just and reasonable,) that the light of understanding by which we excel the lower animals, and approach very near to God, may be preferred by me to all earthly advantages. The expression, according to thy word, may be understood in two ways. It may denote that David besought God to impart to him understanding according to his promise; or, as some explain it, it may intimate that he desired to have his mind framed according to the rule of God’s word, so that he might not be wise otherwise than according to the doctrine of the law. This last sense would not be inappropriate, did not these words in the following verse, Deliver me according to thy word, present an objection to such an interpretation. Having no doubt that these two sentences have a corresponding meaning — though at first sight it is more specious to understand David as praying to be made wise according to the rule of the law — I rather incline to the other sense, That he beseeches God to endue him with understanding, in fulfillment of his promise. And whilst God liberally promises all blessings to his people, to enlighten them by his Spirit, that they may excel in true and sound wisdom, is justly entitled to be ranked among the chief of his promises. This doctrine is profitable to us in many ways. In the first place we are taught that nothing is more to be desired than to have God guiding us by his light, that we may not be like brute beasts. In the second place we are taught that this is the peculiar gift of the Holy Spirit; for it would have been in vain for David to have besought. God to bestow upon him that which he had naturally in himself, or which he might have attained by his own painstaking. In the third place, what I have said concerning the promise is to be attended to, to the end the faithful may not hesitate to offer themselves to God to be enlightened by Him, who declares that he will be the guide of the blind, and who refuses not to be a master and teacher of little ones and of the humble.
(38) As has been observed by some critics, the Psalmist’s cry for deliverance is here personified. He represents it as if an intelligent being, and as sent up by him to heaven, there to plead his cause in the presence of God. The same elegant poetical figure is used in the following verse, and it is of frequent occurrence in the Book of Psalms.
170.Let my prayer come into thy presence. After having made supplication that the gift of right understanding might be imparted to him, the Psalmist now implores God for deliverance, by which he acknowledges that he was continually involved in multiplied dangers from which he found it impossible to escape, unless God stretched forth his hand from heaven to his aid. We know, indeed, that whenever any distress was pressing hard behind him, he called upon God for succor; but as he does not here specify any particular distress, I have no doubt that, in commending his life in general terms to the protection of God, he thought again and again how he was shut up on every side by innumerable deaths, from which he could not escape if God did not prove his continual deliverer. But this is an inestimable comfort to us, that God assures us that in all dangers he will be ready and prepared to help us.
171.My lips shall speak praise. David now shows in another way than in the preceding verse, how high a privilege he accounted it to be admitted by God among the number of His disciples, and to profit aright in His school, by declaring that, if so privileged, he will hasten forward to render thanks to him with fluent tongue. The word
172.My tongue shall speak of thy word. Here the Psalmist says, that when he shall have profited in God’s law he will also employ himself in teaching it to others. This order is undoubtedly to be observed, That divine truth take root in our hearts before we engage in the work of teaching it to others. Yet every man, according to the measure of his faith, ought to communicate to his brethren what he has received, that the doctrine, whose use and fruit God ‘would have to be displayed for the common edification of the Church, may not be buried. There is added the reason which ought to stir up all the godly to declare the law of God — namely, because by this means righteousness is spread abroad through the whole world. When the Prophet honors the commandments of God with the title of righteousness, he does not simply express his approbation of them, but he indirectly shows, that, until this rule bear sway in governing mankind, the whole world is one scene of sad and horrible confusion. Yet, let my readers judge whether the word answer or witness, which the Hebrew verb
173.Let thy hand be to succor me. As he had devoted himself to the doctrine of the law, David requests that the hand of God may be stretched forth for his aid. Farther, by these words he declares, that those who yield themselves to God to be governed by His word have continually need of His help. The more sincerely any individual studies to be a good man, so much the more numerous are the ways in which Satan troubles him, and so much the more are the enemies multiplied who molest him on all sides. But when God sees those who once embraced the truth of his word remaining steadfast in their resolution, he is so much the more inclined to aid them. By the word choose in the second clause, the Psalmist has expressed that nothing had hindered him from devoting himself to the law of God. No man will apply this mind to the love of the law without a great struggle, since the thoughts of every man are drawn away to a variety of objects, by the depraved affections of the flesh. This choosing then spoken of shows that it is not through ignorance or an inconsiderate zeal that the children of God desire above all things heavenly doctrine; but as they partake of the flexibility or pliancy of mind common to men, and feel the various impulses of the flesh, they purposely subdue their minds to the obedience of God.
174.I have longed for thy salvation, O Jehovah! Although all men desire to be in happy circumstances, and no man avowedly repudiates God’s favor; yet so confused and uncertain are the ideas which they entertain of that in which a life of happiness or propriety consists, that very few are to be found directing their aspirations to God. Some are carried away by their own ambition, some are wholly possessed with avarice, and others burn with lust, all imagining, that the farther they recede from God, everything will prosper so much the better with them. In short, in proportion as each man is desirous to be safe, in the same proportion does he provoke the anger of God, by seeking the means of his safety in all directions. The construction in the Hebrew text denotes steadfastness, or constancy of desire; for literally it is, that He Had longed for the salvation of God, and not that he only at the present time began to long for it. He next expresses the manner in which we are patiently to long for salvation; which is, by seeking consolation and relief in all our calamities from the word of God; for whoever does not comfort himself by a reliance on the grace promised in the word, will quail at the slightest assault made upon him. The Prophet then wisely kept his thoughts close upon the divine word, that he might not be turned away from hoping for the salvation of God.
175.Let my soul live and let it praise thee. As the verbs are in the future tense, shall live, shall praise, this sentence may be expounded thus: Lord, when thou shalt have bestowed life upon me, I will endeavor, by celebrating thy praises, to show that I am not ungrateful. If this sense is approved, the sentence will be a kind of rejoicing, in which the Prophet, depending upon the divine promises, confidently proclaims, that his life will continue in safety. And, certainly, although our life is hidden under the shadow of death, we may, nevertheless, boast that it is safe, because God is its faithful guardian; and this assured confidence proceeds from his quickening grace, which is offered to us in his word. Yet, as the majority of Commentators translate these words in the optative mood, let us follow the more generally received interpretation, which is, that David in asking to have his life prolonged, shows, at the same time, that the end for which he desired to live was, that he might exercise himself in singing the praises of God, even as it is said in Psalms 115:18, “Wewho shall remain in life shall praise Jehovah.” In the second clause it would be harsh to understand the word judgments of the commandments, to which it does not properly belong to give help. It seems then, that the Prophet, perceiving himself liable to numberless calamities — even as the faithful, by reason of the unbridled license of the wicked, dwell in this world as sheep among wolves, — calls upon God to protect him in the way of restraining, by his secret providence, the wicked from doing him harm. It is a very profitable doctrine, when things in the world are in a state of great confusion, and when our safety is in danger amidst so many and varied storms, to lift up our eyes to the judgments of God, and to seek a remedy in them. As, however, in this Psalm the word judgments is commonly referred to God’s commandments, we may also fitly interpret it of them in this place, so that the Prophet attributes to the word of God the office and charge of giving succor; for God does not feed us with delusive promises, but, whenever an emergency arises, confirms and ratifies his word by giving some palpable manifestation of the operation of his hand. Thus, when the Prophet calls the divine law to his help, he pronounces a singular encomium upon the efficacy of the divine word. If any would prefer expounding the sentence of the keeping of the law, I offer no objections. In this sense it is as if the Prophet had said, — O Lord, let the uprightness which I have practiced, and the zeal with which I have employed myself in keeping thy commandments, be a defense to me.
176.I have wandered like a lost sheep. He is not to be understood as here confessing his sins, — an opinion erroneously held by many, — as if he had been drawn into the trails of Satan; for this is inconsistent with the second clause, in which he denies that he had forgotten God’s law. It is a poor solution of this difficulty to say, that:, previous to the time of his calling, he was a wandering sheep, but that from the time of his calling he was devoted to godliness — or that in straying he was withheld by some godly affection from utterly casting off the fear of God; for the same time is undoubtedly referred to in both clauses. Again it is easy to gather, that the two clauses of this verse ought to be connected together by although, or notwithstanding, or some other such particle, as the Latins call adversative, (39) as if the Prophet had said, Although I have wandered about like a lost sheep, yet I have not forgotten the law of God. His meaning, I conceive, is, that he wandered, because, being chased by the force and violence of his enemies, he transported himself from place to place in great fear, in quest of retreats in which he might hide himself. We know for certain, that David was so hunted that in his exile he could nowhere find a secure place. This similitude would therefore very properly apply to him, because, although driven away and hunted after by his persecutors, he yet never turned aside from the law of God. Moreover, as the wolves pursued him everywhere, he prays God to bring him back and give him a place of safety and tranquillity, that he may at length cease from any longer wandering hither and thither, and being as a vagabond. (40) He had a very good ground for believing that he would be heard in the fact, that although provoked by manifold wrongs he yet never swerved from the fear of God — a statement which, however, ought to be referred rather to the general course of his life than to particular acts. Although when he fell into adultery he continued for a time in a state of insensibility, yet it cannot be denied that in his adversities he was restrained by a holy patience, so as to persevere in following after righteousness. (41)
(41) Before leaving this divine poem, to the close of which we halve now arrived, there are a few remarks which may be suggested upon a review of the whole. In the first place, it is worthy of observation, that its alphabetical structure has been so completely preserved, that not one of the initial letters in it has been lost, notwithstanding its length and great antiquity, being older by many ages than any of the celebrated writings of Greece and Rome. In the second place, the wonderful perfection and yet connection of its various parts is also deserving of attention. Wherever we begin we seem to be at the commencement, and wherever we stop the sense is complete; and yet the poem does not consist of detached sentences, but is a whole consisting of many parts, all of which seem necessary to its perfection. In the third place, the numerous apparent repetitions which occur in it ought not to excite the prejudice of the reader. Although the frequent recurrence of the same words may not have an effect altogether agreeable upon fastidious ears, yet these words are so connected with others, as to bring out new meanings and to suggest new trains of thought. Hence the intelligent and pious student, instead of finding the sentences tautological, will discover new sentiments welling out to preserve his attention and to keep alive the flame of devotion. Walford, after observing that some readers may think this poem singularly marked by frequent repetitions, adds — “It is not my intention to write an essay on this theme; and I shall therefore briefly say, that the implicitly of ancient writings is one of their greatest charms. If the repetitions of Psalms 119:0 create in it a blemish, it is one which the royal author of it shares in common with the most illustrious poet of Pagan antiquity; and that if simplicity and repetition are to be objected against David’s Ode, the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey will hardly escape condemnation.” In fine, the attentive reader must have observed the striking manner in which this composition exhibits the workings of genuine godliness in the regenerated soul. “I know of no part of the Holy Scriptures,” remarks that eminent man, Jonathan Edwards, “where the nature and evidences of true and sincere godliness are so fully and largely insisted on and delineated as in Psalms 119:0. The Psalmist declares his design in the first verses of the Psalm, keeps his eye on it all along, and pursues it to the end. The excellency of holiness is represented as the immediate object of a spiritual taste and delight. God’s law — that grand expression and emanation of the holiness of God’s nature and prescription of holiness to the creature — is all along represented as the great object of the love, the complacence, and the rejoicing of the gracious nature, which prizes God’s commands ‘above gold, yea, the finest gold,’ and to which they are ‘sweeter than honey and the honey-comb.’” —Edwards on the Religious Affections, part 3 section 3.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Psalms 119". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27