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1. And he said, etc. I will not stop to examine too minutely the syllables, or the few words, in which this psalm differs from the song which is recorded in the twenty-second chapter of the Second Book of Samuel. When, however, we meet with any important difference, we shall advert to it in the proper place; and we find one in the remarkable sentence with which this psalm commences, I will love thee affectionately, O Jehovah, my strength, which is omitted in the song in Samuel. As the Scripture does not use the verb רהם, racham, for to love, except in the conjugation pihel, and as it is here put in the conjugation kal, some of the Jewish expositors explain it as here meaning to seek mercy; as if David had said, Lord, since I have so often experienced thee to be a merciful God, I will trust to and repose in thy mercies for ever. And certainly this exposition would not be unsuitable, but I am unwilling to depart from the other, which is more generally received. It is to be observed, that love to God is here laid down as constituting the principal part of true godliness; for there is no better way of serving God than to love him. No doubt, the service which we owe him is better expressed by the word reverence, that thus his majesty may prominently stand forth to our view in its infinite greatness. But as he requires nothing so expressly as to possess all the affections of our heart, and to have them going out towards him, so there is no sacrifice which he values more than when we are bound fast to him by the chain of a free and spontaneous love; and, on the other hand, there is nothing in which his glory shines forth more conspicuously than in his free and sovereign goodness. Moses, therefore, (Deuteronomy 10:12,) when he meant to give a summary of the law, says,“
And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee but to love him?”
In speaking thus, David, at the same time, intended to show that his thoughts and affections were not so intently fixed upon the benefits of God as to be ungrateful to him who was the author of them, a sin which has been too common in all ages. Even at this day we see how the greater part of mankind enjoy wholly at their ease the gifts of God without paying any regard to him, or, if they think of him at all, it is only to despise him. David, to prevent himself from falling into this ingratitude, in these words makes as it were a solemn vow, Lord, as thou art my strength, I will continue united and devoted to thee by unfeigned love.
2. Jehovah is my rock, etc. When David thus heaps together many titles by which to honor God, it is no useless or unnecessary accumulation of words. We know how difficult it is for men to keep their minds and hearts stayed in God. They either imagine that it is not enough to have God for them, and, consequently, are always seeking after support and succor elsewhere, or, at the first temptation which assails them, fall from the confidence which they placed in him. David, therefore, by attributing to God various methods of saving his people, protests that, provided he has God for his protector and defender, he is effectually fortified against all peril and assault; as if he had said, Those whom God intends to succor and defend are not only safe against one kind of dangers, but are as it were surrounded by impregnable ramparts on all sides, so that, should a thousand deaths be presented to their view, they ought not to be afraid even at this formidable array. (388) We see, then, that the design of David here is not only to celebrate the praises of God, in token of his gratitude, but also to fortify our minds with a firm and steadfast faith, so that, whatever afflictions befall us, we may always have recourse to God, and may be fully persuaded that he has virtue and power to assist us in different ways, according to the different methods of doing us mischief which the wicked devise. Nor, as I have observed before, does David insist so much on this point, and express the same thing by different terms without cause. God may have aided us in one way, and yet whenever a new tempest arises, we are immediately stricken with terror, as if we had never experienced any thing of his aid. And those who in one trouble expect protection and succor from him, but who afterwards circumscribe his power, accounting it limited in other respects, act like a man who upon going into battle, considers himself well secured as to his breast, because he has a breastplate and a shield to defend him, and yet is afraid of his head, because he is without a helmet. David, therefore, here furnishes the faithful with a complete suit of armor, (389) that they may feel that they are in no danger of being wounded, provided they are shielded by the power of God. That such is the object he has in view, is apparent from the declaration which he makes of his confidence in God: I will trust in him Let us, therefore, learn from his example, to apply to our own use those titles which are here attributed to God, and to apply them as an antidote against all the perplexities and distresses which may assail us; or rather, let them be deeply imprinted upon our memory, so that we may be able at once to repel to a distance whatever fear Satan may suggest to our mind. I give this exhortation, not only because we tremble under the calamities with which we are presently assailed, but also because we groundlessly conjure up in our own imaginations dangers as to the time to come, and thus needlessly disquiet ourselves by the mere creations of fancy. In the song, as recorded in 2 Samuel 22:3, instead of these words, My God, my rock, it is, God of my rock. And after the word refuge, there is, My fortress, my savior, thou shalt preserve me from violence; words which make the sentence fuller, but the meaning comes to the same thing.
(388) “ Comme environnez de bons rempars de tous costez, tellement que mille morts, quand autant il s’en presenteroit a eux, ne leur doyvent point faire peur.” — Fr.
(389) “ Et pourtant David equippe yci les fideles de pied en cap comme on dit.” — Fr. “David, therefore, here equips the faithful from head to foot, as we say.”
3. I will call upon the praised Jehovah. Calling upon God, as has been observed elsewhere, frequently comprehends the whole of his service; but as the effect or fruit of prayer is particularly mentioned in what follows, this phrase in the passage before us, I have no doubt, signifies to have recourse to God for protection, and to ask by prayer deliverance from him. David having said in the second verse, that he trusted in God, now subjoins this as an evidence of his trust; for every one who confides in God will earnestly beseech his aid in the time of need. He therefore declares, that he will be saved, and prove victorious over all his enemies, because he will have recourse to God for help. He calls God the praised Jehovah, not only to intimate that he is worthy of being praised, as almost all interpreters explain it, but also to point out, that, when he came to the throne of grace, his prayers would be mingled and interwoven with praises. (393) The scope of the passage seems to require that it be understood as meaning, that giving thanks to God for the benefits which he has received from him in times past, he will ask his assistance by renewed supplications. And certainly no man will ever invoke God in prayer freely and frankly unless he animate and encourage himself by the remembrance of the grace of God. Accordingly Paul, in Philippians 4:6, exhorts the faithful“
in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, to make their requests known unto God” (Philippians 4:6)
and to disburden their cares, as it were, into his bosom. All those whose prayers are not accompanied with the praises of God are chargeable with clamouring and complaining against him, when engaged in that solemn exercise.
(393) The word in the Hebrew text מהלל, mehullal, literally signifies praise. The ancient versions view the word not as denoting that God is worthy to be praised, which is the meaning attached to it in our English version, but as referring to the Psalmist’s resolution to praise God. The Septuagint reads, Αινων επικαλεσομαι Κυριον Kytov, “Praising I will call upon the Lord.” The reading of the Vulgate is the same, “ Laudans invocabo.” The Chaldee reads, “In a song or hymn I pour out prayers unto the Lord:” and the Arabic. “I will praise the Lord, and call upon him.” This is precisely the sense in which Calvin understands the words, “I will call upon the praised Jehovah.”
4. The cords (394) of death had compassed me about. David now begins to recount the undoubted and illustrious proofs by which he had experienced that the hand of God is sufficiently strong and powerful to repel all the dangers and calamities with which he may be assailed. And we need not wonder that those things which might have been described more simply, and in an unadorned style, are clothed in poetical forms of expression, and set forth with all the elegancies and ornaments of language. The Holy Spirit, to contend against and make an impression upon the wicked and perverse dispositions of men, has here furnished David with eloquence full of majesty, energy, and wonderful power, to awaken mankind to consider the benefits of God. There is scarcely any assistance God bestows, however evident and palpable it may be to our senses, which our indifference or proud disdain does not obscure. David, therefore, the more effectually to move and penetrate our minds, says that the deliverance and succor which God had granted him had been conspicuous in the whole frame-work of the world. This his intention it is needful for us to take into view, lest we should think that he exceeds due bounds in expressing himself in a style so remarkable for sublimity. The sum is, that, when in his distresses he had been reduced to extremity, he had betaken himself to God for help, and had been wonderfully preserved.
(394) “Death is here personified under the semblance of a mighty conqueror, who binds his vanquished foes in strong fetters.” — Walford.
We shall now make a few observations with respect to the words. The Hebrew word חבלי, chebley, means cords or sorrows, or any deadly evil, (395) which consumes a man’s health and strength, and which tends to his destruction. That the psalm may correspond with the song recorded in 2 Samuel, formerly referred to, I do not disapprove of this word being here taken for contrition, because the phrase there employed is משברי מות, mishberey maveth, (396) and the noun משברי, mishberey, is derived from a verb which signifies to break. But as the metaphor taken from cords or snares agrees better with the verb compass about, the import of which is, that David was on all sides involved and entangled in the perils of death, I am disposed rather to adopt this interpretation. What follows concerning torrents implies that he had been almost overwhelmed by the violence and impetuosity of his enemies against him, even as a man who is covered over the head with floods of water is almost lost. He calls them the torrents of Belial, because it was wicked and perverse men who had conspired against him. The Hebrew word Belial has a wide signification. With respect to its etymology there are different opinions among expositors. Why Jerome has rendered it without yoke, (397) I know not. The more generally received opinion is, that it is compounded of these two words, בלי, beli, not, and יעל, yaäl, (398) to denote that the wicked do not rise, in other words, ultimately gain nothing, and obtain no advantage by their infatuated course. The Jews certainly employed this word to designate every kind of detestable wickedness, and from this it is highly probable that David by it meant to describe his enemies, who basely and wickedly plotted his destruction. (399) If, however, any prefer translating the phrase, by deadly torrents, I am not disposed to oppose this rendering. In the following verse he again repeats, that the corruptions or cords of the grave had compassed him about As the Hebrew word is the same which he had employed in the preceding verse, I have thought it proper to translate it cords here, as I have done there, not only because he uses a verb which signifies to beset, to inclose, or to surround, but also because he adds immediately after, the snares of death, which, in my opinion, is to be understood in the same sense. This, then, is the description of the dangerous circumstances into which he was brought, and it enhances and magnifies so much the more the glory of his deliverance. As David had been reduced to a condition so desperate that no hope of relief or deliverance from it was apparent, it is certain that he was delivered by the hand of God, and that it was not a thing effected by the power of man.
(395) “ חבל, chebel,” says Hammond, “signifies two things, a cord, and a pang of a woman’s travail, and which it signifies must be resolved still by the context. Here, where it is joined with encompassing, it is most fitly to be understood in the former sense, because ropes or cords are proper for that turn, as for holding and keeping in when they are inclosed.” The Chaldee understands the word in the other sense, and paraphrases the clause thus: ”Distress hath compassed me as a woman in travail which hath not strength to bring forth, and is in danger of death,” The Septuagint adopts the same view, reading, “ ὠδινες θανατου, the pangs of death.”
(396) Cocceius renders the words, “the waves of death,” and he observes, that the words “waves’” explains the verb “compassed me about.” Death sent its sorrows thick upon him one after another, as the sea sends forth its waves, and with such violence that he was ready to be overwhelmed. The word משברי, mishberey, is applied both to the breaking waves of the sea, (Psalms 42:7.) — Ainsworth. Horsley translates the phrase, “The breakers of death.” “The metaphor,” says he, “is taken from those dangerous waves our mariners call white breakers.”
(397) Jerome doubtless derived the word from בלי, beli, not or without, and עול, ol, a yoke, and thus the term Belial means those who shake off all restraint. Signifying to profit, or to gain advantage in any respect.
(398) Belial is a compound term, significant of vileness and worthlessness.
(399) “The ‘floods of Belial’ intend large bodies of men, who rush forward in impetuous torrents to overwhelm and destroy whatever opposes them.” - Walford.
6. In my distress, etc. It was a very evident proof of uncommon faith in David, when, being almost plunged into the gulf of death, he lifted up his heart to heaven by prayer. Let us therefore learn, that such an example is set before our eyes, that no calamities, however great and oppressive, may hinder us from praying, or create an aversion to it. It was prayer which brought to David the fruits or wonderful effects of which he speaks a little after, and from this it appears still more clearly that his deliverance was effected by the power of God. In saying that he cried, he means, as we have observed elsewhere, the ardor and earnestness of affection which he had in prayer. Again, by calling God his God, he separates himself from the gross despisers of God, or hypocrites, who, when constrained by necessity, call upon the Divine Majesty in a confused and tumultuous manner, but do not come to God familiarly and with a pure heart, as they know nothing of his fatherly favor and goodness. When, therefore, as we approach to God, faith goes before to illumine the way, giving us the full persuasion that He is our Father, then is the gate opened, and we may converse freely with Him and he with us. David, by calling God his God, and putting him on his side, also intimates that God was opposed to his enemies; and this serves to show that he was actuated by true piety and the fear of God. By the word temple we are not here to understand the sanctuary as in many other places, but heaven; for the description which immediately follows cannot be applied to the sanctuary. Accordingly, the sense is, that when David was forsaken and abandoned in the world, and all men shut their ears to his cry for help, God stretched forth his hand from heaven to save him.
7. Then the earth shook. David, convinced that the aid of God, which he had experienced, was of such a character, that it was impossible for him to extol it sufficiently and as it deserved, sets forth an image of it in the sky and the earth, as if he had said, It has been as visible as the changes which give different appearances to the sky and the earth. If natural things always flowed in an even and uniform course, the power of God would not be so perceptible. But when he changes the face of the sky by sudden rain, or by loud thunder, or by dreadful tempests, those who before were, as it were, asleep and insensible, must necessarily be awakened, and be tremblingly conscious of the existence of a presiding God. (400) Such sudden and unforeseen changes manifest more clearly the presence of the great Author of nature. No doubt, when the sky is unclouded and tranquil, we see in it sufficient evidences of the majesty of God, but as men will not stir up their minds to reflect upon that majesty, until it come nearer to them, David, the more powerfully to affect us, recounts the sudden changes by which we are usually moved and dismayed, and introduces God at one time clothed with a dark cloud, — at another, throwing the air into confusion by tempests, — now rending it by the boisterous violence of winds, — now launching the lightnings, — and anon darting down hailstones and thunderbolts. In short, the object of the Psalmist is to show that the God who, as often as he pleases, causes all parts of the world to tremble by his power, when he intended to manifest himself as the deliverer of David, was known as openly and by signs as evident as if he had displayed his power in all the creatures both above and beneath.
In the first place, he says, The earth shook, and nothing is more dreadful than an earthquake. Instead of the words, the foundations of the mountains, it is in the song, as recorded in 2 Samuel, the foundations of the heavens; but the meaning is the same, namely, that there was nothing in the world so settled and steadfast which did not tremble, and which was not removed out of its place. David, however, as I have already observed in the beginning, does not relate this as a piece of history, or as what had actually taken place, but he employs these similitudes for the purpose of removing all doubt, and for the greater confirmation of faith as to the power and providence of God; because men, from their slowness of understanding, cannot apprehend God except by means of external signs. Some think that these miracles were actually wrought, and performed exactly as they are here related; but it is not easy to believe this, since the Holy Spirit, in the narrative given of David’s life, makes no mention whatever of such wonderful displays of divine power in his behalf. We cannot, however, justly censure or find fault with this hyperbolic manner of speaking, when we consider our slowness of apprehension, and also our depravity, to which I have just now called your attention. David, who was much more penetrating and quick of understanding than ordinary men, finding he could not sufficiently succeed in impressing and profiting people of sluggish and weak understandings by a simple manner of speaking, describes under outward figures the power of God, which he had discovered by means of faith, and the revelation of the Holy Spirit. He doubtless hereby apprehended and knew more distinctly the omnipresent majesty of God, than the dull sort of common people perceive the hand of God in earthquakes, tempests, thunders, the gloomy lowerings of the heavens, and the boisterous winds. At the same time, it is proper to consider, that although God had, in a wonderful manner, displayed his grace in defending and maintaining David, many, nevertheless, thought that it was by his own skill, or by chance, or by other natural means, that all his affairs had come to a prosperous issue; and it was such stupidity or depravity as this which he saw in the men of his own time, that constrained him to mention and to summon together all parts of creation as witnesses for God. Some also justly and judiciously consider that, in the whole of this description, David has an allusion to the common deliverance of God’s chosen people from Egypt. As God then designed and established that event to be a perpetual memorial, from which the faithful might learn that he was the guardian and protector of their welfare, so all the benefits which, from that period, he bestowed upon his people, either as a public body or as private individuals, were, so to speak, appendages of that first deliverance. Accordingly David, in other places as well as here, with the view of exalting the succor which God had granted to his people, sets forth that most memorable instance of the goodness of God towards the children of Israel, as if it were the archtype or original copy of the grace of God. And surely, while many, seeing him an exile from his country, held him in derision as a man expelled from the family of God, and many murmured that he had violently and unrighteously usurped the kingdom, he had good ground to include, under the deliverance which had been common to all the people, the protection and safety which God had afforded to himself; as if he had said, I have been wrongfully cast off as an alien or stranger, seeing God has sufficiently shown, in the deliverance which he has wrought for me, that by him I am owned and acknowledged to be a distinguished and valuable member of the Church. We see how the prophets, whenever they would inspire the people with the hope of salvation, call their thoughts back to the contemplation of that first covenant which had been confirmed by those miracles which were wrought in Egypt, in the passage through the Red Sea and in Mount Sinai. When he says, The earth trembled, because he was wroth, it is to be understood as referring to the ungodly. It is a form of speech which God often employs, to say, that, being inflamed with indignation, he arms himself to maintain the safety of his people against their persecutors.
(400) “ Il faut necessa ement que les gens qui auparavant estoyent comme endormis et stupides se resueillent et apprehendent qu’il y a un Dieu.” — Fr.
8. There went up a smoke by [or out of] his nostrils, etc The Hebrew word אף, aph, properly signifies the nose, or the nostrils. But as it is sometimes taken metaphorically for wrath, some translate it thus, There went up a smoke in his wrath, which, in my opinion, is not at all appropriate. David compares the mists and vapours which darken the air to the thick smoke which a man sends forth from his nostrils when he is angry. And when God, by his very breath, covers the heaven with clouds, and taking away from us the brightness of the sun and of all the stars, overwhelms us in darkness, by this we are very impressively taught how dreadful is his wrath. By the rendering which I have given, the figure here strikingly harmonises with the one in the clause which immediately follows, namely, that fire proceeding from his mouth consumed The Psalmist means, that God, without great labor or effort, as soon as he shall have sent forth a breath or blast from his nostrils, and opened his mouth, will kindle such a fire that its smoke will darken the whole world, and its intense heat devour it. What he adds, Coals were kindled by it, serves to distinguish this dreadful fire from a flame which blazes for a moment, and then is extinguished. The bowing of the heavens, denotes a time when the heavens are covered and obscured with clouds. When dense vapours occupy the middle of the air, the clouds seem to us to come down and to lie upon our heads. And not only so, but the majesty of God then approaching, as it were, nearer us, strikes us with dread dismay, and greatly distresses us, although before, when the sky was fair, agreeable, and tranquil, we took ample scope, and enjoyed ourselves with much gaiety. Again, let us remember, that the Scripture, under these descriptions of a clouded and darkened sky, pourtray to us the anger of God. When the sky is clear and unclouded, it seems as if it were the pleasant and benignant countenance of God beaming upon us, and causing us to rejoice; whereas, on the other hand, when the atmosphere is troubled, we feel a depression of the animal spirits which constrains us to look sad, as if we saw God coming against us with a threatening aspect. At the same time, we are taught that no change takes place either in the atmosphere or in the earth, but what is a witness to us of the presence of God.
10. He rode also upon a cherub. The Psalmist having exhibited to us a sign of the wrath of God in the clouds, and in the darkening of the air, representing him as if he breathed out smoke, (401) from his nostrils, and descended with a threatening countenance, to afflict men by the dreadful weight of his power; and having also represented lightnings and thunderbolts as flaming fire proceeding from his mouths — he now introduces him as riding upon the winds and tempests, to take a survey of the whole world with rapid speed, or rather with the swiftness of flying. We meet with a similar description in Psalms 104:3, where God is said to “walk upon the wings of the winds,” and to send them forth in every direction as his swift messengers. David does not, however, simply represent God as the governor of the winds, who drives them by his power whithersoever he pleases; he at the same time tells us that he rides upon a cherub, to teach us that the very violence of the winds is governed by angels as God has ordained. We know that the angels were represented under the figure of the cherubim. David, therefore, I have no doubt, here intended to make an allusion to the ark of the covenant. In proposing for our consideration the power of God as manifested in the wonders of nature, he does it in such a manner as all the time to have an eye to the temple, where he knew God had made himself known in a peculiar manner to the children of Abraham. He therefore celebrates God not only as creator of the world, but as He who entered into covenant with Israel, and chose for himself a holy dwelling-place in the midst of that people. David might have called the angels by their common name, but he has expressly made use of a term which has a reference to the visible symbol of the ark, that true believers, in singing this psalm, might always have their minds directed to the service of God which was performed in the temple. What follows with respect, to God’s dark pavilion or tent, is a repetition of the preceding sentence in different words, namely, that when God covers the air with dark clouds, it is as if he spread a thick veil between him and men, to deprive them of the sight of his countenance, (402) just as if a king, incensed against his subjects, should retire into his secret chamber and hide himself from them. Those take a mistaken view of this verse who bring it forward to prove, in general, the hidden and mysterious character of the glory of God, as if David, with the view of restraining the presumption of human curiosity, had said that God is hidden in darkness in regard to men. God, it is true, is said to dwell in the light which no man can approach unto” (1 Timothy 6:16;) but the form of expression which David here employs, I have no doubt, ought to be restricted, according to the scope of the passage, to the sense which I have given.
(401) “ Tout ainsi que s’il jettoit une fureur par les narines.” — Fr. “As if he cast forth fury from his nostrils.”
(402) “ C’est comme s’il tendoit un voile espes entre luy et les hommes, afin de leur oster le regard de sa face.” — Fr.
12. At the brightness, etc. The Psalmist again returns to the lightnings which, by dividing and as it were cleaving the clouds, lay open the heaven; and, therefore, he says, that the clouds of God (that is to say, those which he had set before him, in token of his anger, for the purpose of depriving men of the enjoyment of the light of his countenance) passed away at the brightness which was before him These sudden changes affect us with a much more lively sense of the power and agency of God than natural phenomena which move on in one uniform course. He adds, that there followed hail-storm and coals of fire; for when the thunder separates and rends asunder the clouds, it either breaks out in lightnings, or the clouds resolve themselves into hail.
13. Jehovah thundered. David here repeats the same thing in different words, declaring that God thundered from heaven; and he calls the thunder the yoke of God, that we may not suppose it is produced merely by chance or by natural causes, independent of the appointment and will of God. Philosophers, it is true, are well acquainted with the intermediate or secondary causes, from which the thunder proceeds, namely, that when the cold and humid vapours obstruct the dry and hot exhalations in their course upwards, a collision takes place, and by this, together with the noise of the clouds rushing against each other, is produced the rumbling thunder-peal. (405) But David, in describing the phenomena of the atmosphere, rises, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, above the mere phenomena themselves, and represents God to us as the supreme governor of the whole, who, at his will, penetrates into the hidden veins of the earth, and thence draws forth exhalations; who then, dividing them into different sorts, disperses them through the air; who again collects the vapours together, and sets them in conflict with the subtile and dry heats, so that the thunder which follows seems to be a loud pealing voice proceeding from his own mouth. The song in 2 Samuel also contains the repetition to which we have referred in the commencement of our remarks on this verse; but the sense of this and the preceding verse, and of the corresponding verses in Samuel, are entirely similar. We should remember what I have said before, that David, under these figures, describes to us the dreadful power of God, the better to exalt and magnify the divine grace, which was manifested in his deliverance. He declares a little after, that this was his intention; for, when speaking of his enemies, he says, (verse 14,) that they were scattered, or put to flight, by the arrows of God; as if he had said, They have been overthrown, not by the hands or swords of men, but by God, who openly launched his thunderbolts against them. Not that he means to affirm that this happened literally, but he speaks in this metaphorical language, because those who were uninstructed and slow to acknowledge the power of God, (406) could not otherwise be brought to perceive that God was the author of his deliverance. The import of his words is, Whoever does not acknowledge that I have been preserved by the hand of God, may as well deny that it is God who thunders from heaven, and abolish his power which is manifested in the whole order of nature, and especially in those wonderful changes which we see taking place in the atmosphere. As God shoots lightnings as if they were arrows, the Psalmist has, in the first place, employed this metaphor; and then he has expressed the thing simply by its proper name.
(405) “ De ce combat et aussi du bruit des nuees allans l’une contre l’autre, se fait un son.” — Fr.
(406) “ Et tardifs a reconnaistre la vertu de Dieu.” — Fr.
15. And the sources of the waters were seen. In this verse, David doubtless alludes to the miracle which was wrought when the chosen tribes passed through the Red Sea. I have before declared the purpose for which he does this. As all the special benefits which God in old time conferred upon any of the children of Abraham as individuals, were so many testimonies by which he recalled to their remembrance the covenant which he had once entered into with the whole people, to assure them that he would always continue his grace towards them, and that one deliverance might be to them a token or pledge of their perpetual safety, and of the protection of God, David fitly conjoins with that ancient deliverance of the Church the assistance which God had sent from heaven to him in particular. As the grace which he declares God had shown towards him was not to be separated from that first deliverance, since it was, so to speak, a part and an appendage of it, he beholds, as it were at a glance, or in an instant, both the ancient miracle of the drying up of the Red Sea, and the assistance which God granted to himself. In short, God, who once opened up for his people a way through the Red Sea, and then showed himself to be their protector upon this condition, that they should assure themselves of being always maintained and preserved under his keeping, now again displayed his wonderful power in the defense and preservation of one man, to renew the remembrance of that ancient history. From this it appears the more evidently, that David, in using these apparently strange and exaggerated hyperboles, does not recite to us the mere creations of romance to please the fancy, after the manner of the heathen poets, (407) but observes the style and manner which God had, as it were, prescribed to his people. At the same time, we ought carefully to mark the reason already adverted to, which constrained him to magnify the grace of God in a style of such splendid imagery, namely, because the greater part of the people never made the grace of God the subject of serious consideration, but, either through wickedness or stupidity, passed over it with shut eyes. The Hebrew word אפיקים, aphikim, which I have rendered sources, properly signifies the channels of rivers; but David, in this passage, evidently means that the very springs or sources of the waters were laid open, and that thus it could be discerned whence proceeds the great and inexhaustible abundance of waters which supply the rivers, and by which they always continue to flow on in their course.
(407) “ En usant de ces hyperboles et similitudes qui semblent estranges et excessives ne nous recite pas des fables et contes faits a plaisir a la fakon des Poietes profanes.” — Fr.
16. He sent down from above. Here there is briefly shown the drift of the sublime and magnificent narrative which has now passed under our review, namely, to teach us that David at length emerged from the profound abyss of his troubles, neither by his own skill, nor by the aid of men, but that he was drawn out of them by the hand of God. When God defends and preserves us wonderfully and by extraordinary means, he is said in Scripture language to send down succor from above; and this sending is set in opposition to human and earthly aids, on which we usually place a mistaken and an undue confidence. I do not disapprove of the opinion of those who consider this as referring to the angels, but I understand it in a more general sense; for by whatever means we are preserved, it is God who having his creatures ready at his nod to do his will, appoints them to take charge of us, and girds or prepares them for succouring us. But, although every kind of aid comes from heaven, David, with good reason, affirms that God had stretched out his hand from on high to deliver him. In speaking thus, he meant to place the astonishing benefit referred to, by way of eminence, above others of a more common kind; and besides, there is in this expression a tacit comparison between the unusual exercise of the power of God here celebrated, and the common and ordinary means by which he succours his people. When he says, that God drew him out of great waters, it is a metaphorical form of expression. By comparing the cruelty of his enemies to impetuous torrents, by which he might have been swallowed up a hundred times, he expresses more clearly the greatness of the danger; as if he had said, I have, contrary to the expectation of men, escaped, and been delivered from a deep abyss in which I was ready to be overwhelmed. In the following verse he expresses the thing simply and without a figure, declaring that he had been delivered from a strong enemy, (408) who mortally hated and persecuted him. The more to exalt and magnify the power of God, he directs our attention to this circumstance, that no strength or power of men had been able to prevent God from saving him, even when he was reduced to the greatest extremity of distress. As in the end of the verse there is the Hebrew particle כי, ki, which generally denotes the cause of what is predicated, almost all interpreters agree in explaining the verse thus: God has succoured me from above, because my enemies were so numerous and so strong that no relief was to be expected by the mere aid of men. From this we deduce a very profitable doctrine, namely, that the most seasonable time for God to aid his people is when they are unable to sustain the assaults of their enemies, or rather, when, broken and afflicted, they sink under their violence, like the wretched man who having in a shipwreck lost all hope of being able to swim to the shore, sinks with great rapidity to the bottom of the deep. The particle יכ, ki, however, might also be explained by the adversative particle although, in this way: Although the enemies of David were superior to him in number and power, he nevertheless was saved.
(408) Bishop Patrick paraphrases the verse thus:— “He delivered me first from that mighty giant, Goliath, and then from Saul, whose power I was not able to withstand; and afterwards from the Philistines and Syrians, and many other nations, whose forces were far superior unto mine, and whose hatred instigated them to do all they could to destroy me.”
18. They had prevented me in the day of my calamity. (409) The Psalmist here confirms in different words the preceding sentence, namely, that he had been sustained by the aid of God, when there was no way of escaping by the power of man. He tells us how he had been besieged on all sides, and that not by an ordinary siege, inasmuch as his enemies, in persecuting him, always molested him most in the time of his calamity. From this circumstance it is the more evident that he had obtained enlargement by no other means than by the hand of God. Whence proceeded so sudden a restoration from death to life, but because God intended to show that he has in his hand, and under his absolute control, the issues of death? In short, the Psalmist ascribes his deliverance to no other cause than the mere good pleasure of God, that all the praise might redound to him alone: He delivered me, because he loved me, or had a good will to me. In mentioning the good pleasure of God, he has a special respect to his own calling to be king. The point on which he principally insisted is, that the assaults which were made upon him, and the conflicts which he had to sustain, were stirred up against him for no other reason but because he had obeyed the call of God, and followed with humble obedience the revelation of his oracle. Ambitious and turbulent men, who are carried headlong by their unruly lusts, inconsiderately to attempt any thing, and who, by their rashness, involve themselves in dangers, may often accomplish their undertakings by vigorous and resolute efforts, but at length a reverse takes place, and they are stopt short in their career of success, for they are unworthy of being sustained and prospered by God, since, without having any warrant or foundation for what they do in his call, they would raise their insane structures even to heaven, and disturb all around them. In short, David testifies, by this expression, that the assistance of God had never failed him, because he had not thrust himself into the office of king of his own accord, but that when he was contented with his humble condition, and would willingly have lived in obscurity, in the sheep-cotes, or in his father’s hut, he had been anointed by the hand of Samuel, which was the symbol of his free election by God to fill the throne.
(409) “They set their faces against me in the day of my calamity,” — Walford.
20. Jehovah rewarded me. David might seem at first sight to contradict himself; for, while a little before he declared that all the blessings which he possessed were to be traced to the good pleasure of God, he now boasts that God rendered to him a just recompense. But if we remember for what purpose he connects these commendations of his own integrity with the good pleasure of God, it will be easy to reconcile these apparently conflicting statements. He has before declared that God was the sole author and originator of the hope of coming to the kingdom which he entertained, and that he had not been elevated to it by the suffrages of men, nor had he rushed forward to it through the mere impulse of his own mind, but accepted it because such was the will of God. Now he adds, in the second place, that he had yielded faithful obedience to God, and had never turned aside from his will. Both these things were necessary; first, that God should previously show his favor freely towards David, in choosing him to be king; and next, that David, on the other hand, should, with an obedient spirit, and a pure conscience, receive the kingdom which God thus freely gave him; and farther, that whatever the wicked might attempt, with the view of overthrowing or shaking his faith, he should nevertheless continue to adhere to the direct course of his calling. Thus, then, we see that these two statements, so far from disagreeing with each other, admirably harmonise. David here represents God as if the president (411) of a combat, under whose authority and conduct he had been brought forth to engage in the combats. Now that depended upon election, in other words, upon this, that God having embraced him with his favor, had created him king. He adds in the verses which immediately follow, that he had faithfully performed the duties of the charge and office committed to him even to the uttermost. It is not, therefore, wonderful if God maintained and protected David, and even showed, by manifest miracles, that he was the defender of his own champion, (412) whom he had, of his own free choice, admitted to the combat, and who he saw had performed his duty with all fidelity. We ought not, however, to think that David, for the sake of obtaining praise among men, has here purposely indulged in the language of vain boasting; we ought rather to view the Holy Spirit as intending by the mouth of David to teach us the profitable doctrine, that the aid of God will never fail us, provided we follow our calling, keep ourselves within the limits which it prescribes, and undertake nothing without the command or warrant of God. At the same time, let this truth be deeply fixed in our minds, that we can only begin an upright course of life when God of his good pleasure adopts us into his family, and in effectually calling, anticipates us by his grace, without which neither we nor any creature would give him an opportunity of bestowing this blessing upon us. (413)
There, however, still remains one question. If God rendered to David a just recompense, it may be said, does it not seem, when he shows himself liberal towards his people, that he is so in proportion as each of them has deserved? I answer, When the Scripture uses the word reward or recompense, it is not to show that God owes us any thing, and it is therefore a groundless and false conclusion to infer from this that there is any merit or worth in works. God, as a just judge, rewards every man according to his works, but he does it in such a manner, as to show that all men are indebted to him, while he himself is under obligation to no one. The reason is not only that which St Augustine has assigned, namely, that God finds no righteousness in us to recompense, except what he himself has freely given us, but also because, forgiving the blemishes and imperfections which cleave to our works, he imputes to us for righteousness that which he might justly reject. If, therefore, none of our works please God, unless the sin which mingles with them is pardoned, it follows, that the recompense which he bestows on account of them proceeds not from our merit, but from his free and undeserved grace. We ought, however, to attend to the special reason why David here speaks of God rewarding him according to his righteousness. He does not presumptuously thrust himself into the presence of God, trusting to or depending upon his own obedience to the law as the ground of his justification; but knowing that God approved the affection of his heart, and wishing to defend and acquit himself from the false and wicked calumnies of his enemies, he makes God himself the judge of his cause. We know how unjustly and shamefully he had been loaded with false accusations, and yet these calumnies did not so much bear against the honor and name of David as against the welfare and estate of the whole Church in common. It was indeed mere private spite which stirred up Saul, and drove him into fury against David, and it was to please the king that all other men were so rancorous against an innocent individual, and broke forth so outrageously against him; but Satan, there is no doubt, had a prime agency in exciting these formidable assaults upon the kingdom of David, and by them he endeavored to accomplish his ruin, because in the person of this one man God had placed, and, as it were, shut up the hope of the salvation of the whole people. This is the reason why David labors so carefully and so earnestly to show and to maintain the righteousness of his cause. When he presents and defends himself before the judgment-seat of God against his enemies, the question is not concerning the whole course of his life, but only respecting one certain cause, or a particular point. We ought, therefore, to attend to the precise subject of his discourse, and what he here debates. The state of the matter is this: His adversaries charged him with many crimes; first, of rebellion and treason, accusing him of having revolted from the king his father-in-law; in the second place, of plunder and robbery, as if, like a robber, he had taken possession of the kingdom; thirdly, of sedition, as if he had thrown the kingdom into confusion when it enjoyed tranquillity; and, lastly, of cruelty and many flagitious actions, as if he had been the cause of murders, and had prosecuted his conspiracy by many dangerous means and unlawful artifices. David, in opposition to these accusations, with the view of maintaining his innocence before God, protests and affirms that he had acted uprightly and sincerely in this matter, inasmuch as he attempted nothing without the command or warrant of God; and whatever hostile attempts his enemies made against him, he nevertheless always kept himself within the bounds prescribed by the Divine Law. It would be absurd to draw from this the inference that God is merciful to men according as he judges them to be worthy of his favor. Here the object in view is only to show the goodness of a particular cause, and to maintain it in opposition to wicked calumniators; and not to bring into examination the whole life of a man, that he may obtain favor, and be pronounced righteous before God. In short, David concludes from the effect and the issue, that his cause was approved of by God, not that one victory is always and necessarily the sign of a good cause, but because God, by evident tokens of his assistance, showed that he was on the side of David.
(411) Agonotheta. Calvin alludes to the ancient games and combats of Greece, the presidents of which were called Agonothetee.
(412) ArMeta. Those who exercised themselves with the view of contending for the prizes in the Grecian games and combats were called AtMetce.
(413) “ Sans que nous ne creature quelconque luy en donnions” occasion. — Fr.
21. For I have kept the ways of Jehovah. He had spoken in the preceding verse of the cleanness of his hands, but finding that men judged of him perversely, and were very active in spreading evil reports concerning him, (414) he affirms that he had kept the ways of the Lord, which is equivalent to his appealing the matter to the judgment-seat of God. Hypocrites, it is true, are accustomed confidently to appeal to God in the same way; yea, there is nothing which they are more forward in doing than in dallying with the sacred name of God, and making it a cover to conceal their hypocrisy; but David brings forward nothing which men might not have certainly known to be true, if any regard to justice had existed among them. Let us, therefore, from his example, endeavor above all things to have a good conscience. And, in the second place, let us have the magnanimity to despise the false judgments of men, and to look up to heaven for the vindicator of our character and cause. He adds, I have not wickedly departed from my God This implies, that he always aimed directly at the mark of his calling, although the ungodly attempted many things to overthrow his faith. The verb which he uses does not denote one fall only, but a defection which utterly removes and alienates a man from God. David, it is true, sometimes fell into sin through the weakness of the flesh, but he never desisted from following after godliness, nor deserted the service to which God had called him.
(414) “ Et que bien legerement on semoit de luy de mauvais bruits.” — Fr.
22. For all his judgments were before me. He now shows how he came to possess that unbending rectitude of character, by which he was enabled to act uprightly amidst so many and so grievous temptations, namely, because he always applied his mind to the study of the law of God. As Satan is daily making new assaults upon us, it is necessary for us to have recourse to arms, and it is meditation upon the Divine Law which furnishes us with armor to resist. Whoever, therefore, would desire to persevere in uprightness and integrity of life, let them learn to exercise themselves daily in the study of the word of God; for, whenever a man despises or neglects instruction, he easily falls into carelessness and stupidity, and all fear of God vanishes from his mind. I do not intend here to make any subtle distinction between these two words, judgments and ordinances. If, however, any person is inclined to make a distinction between them, the best distinction is to refer judgments to the second table of the law, and ordinances, or statutes, which in Hebrew are called חוכות, chukoth, to the duties of piety and the exercises immediately connected with the worship of God.
23. I was also upright with him. All the verbs in this verse are put by David in the future tense, I will be upright, etc. because he does not boast of one act only, or of a good work performed by fits and starts, but of steady perseverance in an upright course. What I have said before, namely, that David takes God for his judge, as he saw that he was wrongfully and unrighteously condemned by men, appears still more clearly from what he here says, “I have been upright with him.” The Scriptures, indeed, sometimes speak in similar terms of the saints, to distinguish them from hypocrites, who content themselves with wearing the outward mask of religious observances; but it is to disprove the false reports which were spread against him that David thus confidently appeals to God with respect to them. This is still more fully confirmed by the repetition of the same thing which is made a little after, According to the cleanness of my hands before his eyes In these words there is evidently a contrast between the eyes of God and the blinded or malignant eyes of the world; as if he had said, I disregard false and wicked calumnies, provided I am pure and upright in the sight of God, whose judgment can never be perverted by malevolent or other vicious and perverse affections. Moreover, the integrity which he attributes to himself is not perfection but sincerity, which is opposed to dissimulation and hypocrisy. This may be gathered from the last clause of the 23 verse, where he says, I have kept myself from my iniquity In thus speaking, he tacitly acknowledges that he had not been so pure and free from sinful affections as that the malignity of his enemies did not frequently excite indignation within him, and gall him to the heart. He had therefore to fight in his own mind against many temptations, for as he was a man, he must have felt in the flesh on many occasions the stirrings of vexation and anger. But this was the proof of his virtue, that he imposed a restraint upon himself, and refrained from whatever he knew to be contrary to the word of God. A man will never persevere in the practice of uprightness and of godliness, unless he carefully keep himself from his iniquity.
25. With the merciful, etc. David here prosecutes the same subject. In considering the grace of God by which he had been delivered, he brings it forward as a proof of his integrity, and thus triumphs over the unfounded and disgraceful calumnies of his enemies. Hypocrites, I confess, are also accustomed to act in the same way; for prosperity and the success of their affairs so elates them that they are not ashamed proudly to vaunt themselves not only against men, but even against God. As such persons, however, openly mock God, when, by his long-suffering, he allures them to repentance, their wicked and unhappy presumption has no resemblance to the boasting by which we here see David encouraging himself. He does not abuse the forbearance and mercy of God by palliating or spreading a specious varnish over his iniquities, because God bears with them; but having, by the manifold aids he had received from God, experienced beyond doubt that he was merciful to him, he justly viewed them as evident testimonies of the divine favor towards him. And we ought to mark well this difference between the ungodly and the faithful, namely, that the former, intoxicated with prosperity, unblushingly boast of being acceptable to God, while yet they disregard him, and rather sacrifice to Fortune, and make it their God; (419) whereas the latter in their prosperity magnify the grace of God, from the deep sense of his grace with which their consciences are affected. Thus David here boasts that God had succoured him on account of the justice of his cause. For, in the first place, we must adapt the words to the scope of the whole discourse, and view them as implying that God, in so often delivering an innocent man from death, when it was near him, showed, indeed, that he is merciful towards the merciful, and pure towards the pure. In the second place, we must view the words as teaching the general doctrine, that God never disappoints his servants, but always at length deals graciously with them, provided they wait for his aid with meekness and patience. To this purpose Jacob said, in Genesis 30:33,“
God will make my righteousness to return upon me.”
The scope of the discourse is, that the people of God should entertain good hope, and encourage themselves to practice uprightness and integrity, since every man shall reap the fruit of his own righteousness.
(419) “ Ils sacrifient plustest a Fortune, et en font leur Dieu.” — Fr.
The last clause of the 26 verse, where it is said, With the perverse thou wilt show thyself perverse, seems to convey a meaning somewhat strange, but it does not imply any thing absurd; yea, rather, it is not without good reason that the Holy Spirit uses this manner of speaking; for he designs thereby to awaken hypocrites and the gross despisers of God, who lull themselves asleep in their vices without any apprehension of danger. (420) We see how such persons, when the Scripture proclaims the sore and dreadful judgments of God, and when also God himself denounces terrible vengeance, pass over all these things, without giving themselves any trouble about them. Accordingly, this brutish, and, as it were, monstrous stupidity which we see in men, compels God to invent new forms of expression, and, as it were, to clothe himself with a different character. There is a similar sentence in Leviticus 26:21, where God says, “And if ye walk contrary unto [ or perversely with] me, then will I also walk contrary unto [ or perversely or roughly, or at random against] you;” as if he had said, that their obstinacy and stubbornness would make him on his part forget his accustomed forbearance and gentleness, and cast himself recklessly or at random against them. (421) We see, then, what the stubborn at length gain by their obduracy; it is this, that God hardens himself still more to break them in pieces, and if they are of stone, he causes them to feel that he has the hardness of iron. Another reason which we may assign for this manner of speaking is, that the Holy Spirit, in addressing his discourse to the wicked, commonly speaks according to their own apprehension. When God thunders in good earnest upon them, they transform him, through the blind terrors which seize upon them, into a character different from his real one, inasmuch as they conceive of nothing as entering into it but barbarity, cruelty, and ferocity. We now see the reason why David does not simply attribute to God the name and office of judge, but introduces him as armed with impetuous violence, for resisting and overcoming the perverse, according as it is said in the common proverb, A tough knot requires a stout wedge.
(420) “ Qui s’endorment en leurs vices sans rien craindre.” — Fr.
(421) “ Comme s’il disoit que leur obstination et opiniastrete sera cause que luy de son coste oubliant sa moderation et douceur accoustumee, se jettera le tors et a travers contre eux.” — Fr.
27. For thou wilt save the afflicted people. This verse contains the correction of a mistake into which we are very ready to fall. As experience shows that the merciful are often severely afflicted, and the sincere involved in troubles of a very distressing description, to prevent any from regarding the statement as false that God deals mercifully with the merciful, David admonishes us that we must wait for the end; for although God does not immediately run to succor the good, yet, after having exercised their patience for a time, he lifts them up from the dust on which they lay prostrate, and brings effectual relief to them, even when they were in despair. Whence it follows, that we ought only to judge by the issue how God shows himself merciful towards the merciful and pure towards the pure. If he did not keep his people in suspense and waiting long for deliverance from affliction, it could not be said that it is his prerogative to save the afflicted. And it is no small consolation, in the midst of our adversities, to know that God purposely delays to communicate his assistance, which otherwise is quite prepared, that we may experience his goodness in saving us after we have been afflicted and brought low. (422) Nor ought we to reckon the wrongs which are inflicted upon us too bitter, since they excite God to show towards us his favor which bringeth salvation. As to the second clause of this verse, the reading is a little different in the song in the 2 Book of Samuel, where the words are, Thine eyes are against the proud to cast them down. But this difference makes no alteration as to the meaning, except that the Holy Spirit there more plainly threatens the proud, that, as God is on the watch to overthrow them, it is impossible for them to escape destruction. The substance of both places is this: The more the ungodly indulge in gratifying their own inclinations, without any fear of danger, and the more proudly they despise the afflicted poor who are under their feet, they are so much the nearer to destruction. Whenever, therefore, they cruelly break forth against us with mockery and contempt, let us know that there is nothing which prevents God from repelling their headstrong pertinacity, but that their pride is not yet come to its height.
(422) “ Afin de nous faire esprouver comment il sauve les affligez.” — Fr.
28. For thou shalt light my lamp. In the song in Samuel, the form of the expression is somewhat more precise; for there it is said not that God lights our lamp, but that he himself is our lamp. The meaning, however, comes to the same thing, namely, that it was by the grace of God that David, who had been plunged in darkness, returned to the light. David does not simply give thanks to God for having lighted up a lamp before him, but also for having converted his darkness into light. He, therefore, acknowledges that he had been reduced to such extremity of distress, that he was like a man whose condition was forlorn and hopeless; for he compares the confused and perplexed state of his affairs to darkness. This, indeed, by the transference of material things to things spiritual, may be applied to the spiritual illumination of the understanding; but, at the same time, we must attend to the subject of which David treats, that we may not depart from the true and proper meaning. Now, as he acknowledges that he had been restored to prosperity by the favor of God, which was to him, as it were, a life-giving light, let us, after his example, regard it as certain that we will never have the comfort of seeing our adversities brought to an end, unless God disperse the darkness which envelops us, and restore to us the light of joy. Let it not, however, be distressing to us to walk through darkness, provided God is pleased to perform to us the office of a lamp. In the following verse, David ascribes his victories to God, declaring that, under his conduct, he had broken through the wedges or phalanxes of his enemies, and had taken by storm their fortified cities. (425) Thus we see that, although he was a valiant warrior, and skilled in arms, he arrogates nothing to himself. As to the tenses of the verbs, we would inform our readers once for all, that in this psalm David uses the past and the future tenses indifferently, not only because he comprehends different histories, but also because he presents to himself the things of which he speaks as if they were still taking place before his eyes, and, at the same time, describes a continued course of the grace of God towards him.
(425) The last clause, By my God have I leaped over a wall, is rendered by the Chaldee, “I will subdue fortified towers.” Hammond renders it, “By my God I have taken a fort.” In support of this view, he observes that the word שור, shur, from שור, shor, to look, signifies both a wall, from which to observe the approach of the enemy, and a watch-tower and fort; that if we take שור, shur, as meaning a wall, the verb דלג, dalag, will be rightly rendered to leap over; but if שור, shur, means a fort, then the verb will mean to seize on it suddenly, and will therefore be best translated to take it.
30. The way of God is perfect. The phrase, The way of God, is not here taken for his revealed will, but for his method of dealing towards his people. The meaning, therefore, is, that God never disappoints or deceives his servants, nor forsakes them in the time of need, (as may be the case with men who do not aid their dependants, except in so far as it contributes to their own particular advantage,) but faithfully defends and maintains those whom he has once taken under his protection. But we will never have any nearness to God, unless he first come near to us by his word; and, for this reason, David, after having asserted that God aids his people in good earnest, adds, at the same time, that his word is purified. Let us, therefore, rest assured that God will actually show himself upright towards us, seeing he has promised to be the guardian and protector of our welfare, and his promise is certain and infallible truth. That by the word we are not here to understand the commandments, but the promises of God, is easily gathered from the following clause, where it is said, He is a shield to all those who trust in him It seems, indeed, a common commendation to say, that the word of God is pure, and without any mixture of fraud and deceit, like silver which is well refined and purified from all its dross. But our unbelief is the cause why God, so to speak, is constrained to use such a similitude, for the purpose of commending and leading us to form exalted conceptions of the steadfastness and certainty of his promises; for whenever the issue does not answer our expectation, there is nothing to which we are naturally more prone than forthwith to begin to entertain unhallowed and distrustful thoughts of the word of God. For a farther explanation of these words, we would refer our readers to our remarks on Psalms 12:6.
31. For who is God besides Jehovah? David here, deriding the foolish inventions of men, who, according to their own fancy, make for themselves tutelary gods, (426) confirms what I have said before, that he never undertook any thing but by the authority and command of God. If he had passed beyond the limits of his calling, he could not with such confidence have said that God was on his side. Besides, although in these words he opposes to the true God all the false gods invented by men, his purpose, at the same time, is to overthrow all the vain hopes in which the world is wrapped up, and by which it is carried about, and prevented from resting in God. The question which David here treats of is not the bare title and name of God, but he declares that whatever assistance we need we should seek it from God, and from no other quarter, because he alone is endued with power: Who is strong except our God? We should, however, attend to the design of David, which I have first adverted to, namely, that, by confidently representing God as opposed to all his enemies, and as the leader, under whose standard he had valiantly fought against them, he means to affirm that he had attempted nothing according to his own fancy, or with an evil and condemning conscience.
(426) “ Qui se forgent a leur fantasie des dieux qui soyent leurs protecteurs et patrons.” — Fr. “Who, according to their own fancy, make for themselves gods to be their protectors and patrons.”
32. It is God who hath girded. This is a metaphor taken either from the belt or girdle of a warrior, or from the reins, in which the Scripture sometimes places a man’s vigor or strength. It is, therefore, as if he had said, I, who would otherwise have been feeble and effeminate, have been made strong and courageous by the power of God. He afterwards speaks of the success itself with which God had favored him; for it would not be enough for persons to have prompt and active courage, nor even to excel in strength, if their undertakings were not at the same time crowned with a prosperous issue. Irreligious men imagine that this proceeds from their own prudence, or from fortune; but David ascribes it to God alone: It is God who hath made my way perfect. The word way is here to be understood of the course of our actions, and the language implies, that whatever David undertook, God, by his blessing, directed it to a successful issue.
David, having taken many strongholds which, on account of their steep and difficult access, were believed to be impregnable, extols the grace of God in this particular. When he says that God had given him feet like hinds’ feet, he means that he had given him unusual swiftness, and such as does not naturally belong to men. The sense, therefore, is, that he had been aided by God in an extraordinary manner, so that like a roe he climbed with amazing speed over inaccessible rocks. He calls the strongholds, which, as conqueror, he had obtained by right of war, his high places; for he could justly boast that he took possession of nothing which belonged to another man, inasmuch as he knew that he had been called to occupy these fortresses by God. When he says that his hands had been taught and framed to war, he confesses that he had not acquired his dexterity in fighting by his own skill, nor by exercise and experience, but had obtained it as a gift through the singular goodness of God. It is true in general, that strength and skill in war proceed only from a secret virtue communicated by God; but David immediately after shows that he had been furnished with greater strength for carrying on his wars than what men commonly possess, inasmuch as his arms were sufficiently strong to break even bows of brass in pieces True, he had by nature a vigorous and powerful bodily frame; but the Scripture describes him as a man of low stature, and the similitude itself which he here uses implies something surpassing the natural strength of man. In the following verse, he declares that it was by the grace of God alone that he had escaped, and been kept in perfect safety: Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation. By the phrase, the shield of God’s salvation, he intimates, that if God had not wonderfully preserved him, he would have been exposed unprotected to many deadly wounds; and thus God’s shield of salvation is tacitly opposed to all the coverings and armor with which he had been provided. He again ascribes his safety to the free goodness of God as its cause, which he says had increased him, or more and more carried him forward in the path of honor and success; for, by the word increase, he means a continuation and an unintermitted and ever growing augmentation of the tokens of the divine favor towards him.
By the enlargement of his steps, he intimates that God had opened up to him an even and an accommodating pathway through places to which there was before no means of access; for there is in the words an implied contrast between a large and spacious place and a narrow spot, out of which a person cannot move his foot. The meaning is, that when David was reduced to the greatest distress, and saw no way of escape, God had graciously brought him out of his straits and difficulties. This is a lesson which may be highly useful for correcting our distrust. Unless we see before us a beautiful and pleasant plain, in which the flesh may freely enjoy itself, we tremble as if the earth would sink under our feet. Let us, therefore, remember, that the office of enlarging our ways and making them level belongs to God, and is here justly ascribed to him. In short, the Psalmist subjoins the effect of this instance of the grace of God towards him, namely, that his feet had not staggered or slipped; in other words, no resistance, adversity, or calamity, which had befallen him, had been able to deprive him of courage or cast him into despair.
The point on which David insists so much is, that of showing from the effect or issue, that all his victories were to be traced to the favor of God; and from this it follows that his cause was good and just. God, no doubt, sometimes grants successes even to the ungodly and wicked; but he at length shows by the issue, that he was all the while opposed to them and their enemy. It is his servants alone who experience such tokens of his favor as he shewed towards David, and he intends by these to testify that they are approved and accepted by him. We are apt to think that David here speaks too much after the manner of a soldier, in declaring that he will not cease from the work of slaughter until he has destroyed all his enemies; or rather that he has forgotten the gentleness and meekness which ought to shine in all true believers, and in which they should resemble their heavenly Father; but as he attempted nothing without the command of God, and as his affections were governed and regulated by the Holy Spirit, we may be assured that these are not the words of a man who was cruel, and who took pleasure in shedding blood, but of a man who faithfully executed the judgment which God had committed to him. And, indeed, we know that he was so distinguished for gentleness of disposition as to abhor the shedding of even a single drop of blood, except in so far as duty and the necessity of his office required. We must, therefore, take into consideration David’s vocation, and also his pure zeal, which was free from all perturbation of the flesh. Moreover, it should be particularly attended to that the Psalmist here calls those his enemies whose indomitable and infatuated obstinacy merited and called forth such vengeance from God. As he represented the person of Christ, he inflicted the punishment of death only on those who were so inflexible that they could not be reduced to order by the exercise of a mild and humane authority; and this of itself shows, that there was nothing in which he more delighted than to pardon those who repented and reformed themselves. He thus resembled Christ, who gently allures all men to repentance, but breaks in pieces, with his iron rod, those who obstinately resist him to the last. The sum of these verses is, that David, as he fought under the authority of God, being chosen king by him, and engaging in no undertaking without his warrant, was assisted by him, and rendered invincible against the assaults of all his enemies, and enabled even to discomfit vast and very powerful armies. Farther, let us remember, that under this type there is shadowed forth the invincible character and condition of the kingdom of Christ, who, trusting to, and sustained by, the power of God, overthrows and destroys his enemies, — who, in every encounter, uniformly comes off victorious, — and who continues king in spite of all the resistance which the world makes to his authority and power. And as the victories secured to him involve a security of similar victories to us, it follows that there is here promised us an impregnable defense against all the efforts of Satan, all the machinations of sin, and all the temptations of the flesh. Although, therefore, Christ can only obtain a tranquil kingdom by fighting, let us not on that account be troubled, but let it be enough to satisfy us, that the hand of God is always ready to be stretched forth for its preservation. David was, for a time, a fugitive, so that it was with difficulty he could save his life, by taking shelter in the dens of wild beasts; but God, at length, made his enemies turn their backs, and not only put them to flight, but also delivered them over to him, that he might pursue and utterly discomfit them. In like manner, our enemies for a time may be, as it were, just ready to put the knife to our throat (431) to destroy us, but God, at length, will make them not only to flee before us, but also to perish in our presence, as they deserve. At the same time, let us remember what kind of warfare it is to which God is calling us, against what kind of persons he will have us to contend, and with what armor he furnishes us, that it may suffice us to have the devil, the flesh, and sin overthrown and placed under our feet by his spiritual power. With respect to those to whom he has given the power of the sword, he will also defend them, and not suffer them to be unrighteously opposed, provided they reign under Christ, and acknowledge him as their head. As to the words, interpreters almost unanimously render the beginning of the 40 verse, My enemies have turned the back, a phrase of the same import as, They have been put to flight; but as the Hebrew word ערף, oreph, properly signifies the head or neck, we may very suitably view the words as meaning that God gave David the neck of his enemies, inasmuch as he delivered them into his hands to be slain.
(431) “ Comme tous prests a nous mettre le cousteau sur la gorge.” — Fr.
41. They shall cry, etc. The change of the tense in the verb from the past to the future does not break the continuity of the narration; and, therefore, the words should be explained thus: Although they cried to God, yet their prayers were rejected by him. He pursues the same subject which it was his object to illustrate before, namely, that it was at length manifest from the issue that his enemies falsely boasted of having the support and countenance of God, who showed that he had turned away from them. It is true, that when their affairs continued to go on prosperously, they sometimes received such applause and commendation, that it was commonly believed that God was favorable to them, while, at the same time he seemed to be opposed to David, who although he cried night and day to him, found it of no avail. But after God had sufficiently tried the patience of his servant, he cast them down, and disappointed them of their vain hope; yea, rather he would not deign to hear their prayers. We now perceive the design of David in these words. As the ungodly had long wickedly abused the name of God, by pretending that he favored their unjust proceedings, the Psalmist derides their vain boasting, in which they were completely disappointed. It is to be observed, that he here speaks of hypocrites, who never call upon God in sincerity and truth. For this promise shall never fail,“
The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth,” (Psalms 145:18.)
David does not, therefore, say that his enemies were repulsed when they had recourse to God with sincere affection of heart, but only when, with their accustomed effrontery, they thought that God was, so to speak, bound to conduct and advance their wicked enterprises. When the ungodly, in the extremity of their distress, pour forth prayers, and when, cast down with fear, and trembling with the dread of impending evils, they show an appearance of humility, they, notwithstanding, do not change their purpose so as truly to repent and amend the evil of their ways. Besides, instead of being influenced by faith, they are actuated by presumption and hardness of heart, or they pour forth their complaints in doubt, rather for the purpose of murmuring against God, than of familiarly and confidently placing their trust in him. from this passage we may gather a profitable warning, namely, that all who treat the afflicted poor with cruel mockery, and who proudly thrust back those who come to them as humble suppliants, will experience that God is deaf to their prayers. We are farther taught by the following verse, that after God has cast off the ungodly, he leaves them to be treated with every kind of indignity, and gives them up to be trampled under foot, as the mire of the streets. He not only declares, that when the proud and the cruel cry to him in their affliction, he will shut his ears against their cry; but he also threatens, that, in the course of his retributive providence, they shall be treated in the same manner in which they treat others.
43. Thou shalt deliver me from the contentions of the people. David states, in a few words, that he had experienced the assistance of God in all variety of ways. He was in great danger from the tumults which sometimes arose among his own subjects, if God had not wonderfully allayed them, and subdued the fierceness of the people. It also happened, contrary to the general expectation, that David, as is stated in the second clause of the verse, was victorious far and wide, and overthrew the neighboring nations who had a little before discomfited all Israel by their forces. It was an astonishing renovation of things, when he not only suddenly restored to their former estate the people of Israel, who had been greatly reduced by defeat and slaughter, but also made his tributaries the neighboring nations, with whom before, on account of their hostility to the nation of Israel, it was impossible to live in peace. It would have been much to see the kingdom, after having sustained so grievous a calamity, still surviving, and after having again collected strength recovering its former state; but God, contrary to all expectation, conferred upon the people of Israel more than this; he enabled them even to subdue those who before had been their conquerors. David makes mention of both these; he tells us, in the first place, that when the people rose up in tumult against him, it was none other but God who stilled these commotions which took place within the kingdom; and, in the second place, that it was under the authority, and by the conduct and power of God, that powerful nations were subjected to him, and that the limits of the kingdom, which, in the time of Saul, had been weak and half broken, were greatly enlarged. Hence it is evident that David was assisted by God, not less with respect to his domestic affairs, that is to say, within his own kingdom, than against foreign enemies. As the kingdom of David was a type under which the Holy Spirit intended to shadow forth to us the kingdom of Christ, let us remember that, both in erecting and preserving it, it is necessary for God not only to stretch forth his arm and fight against avowed enemies, who from without rise up against him, but also to repress the tumults and strifes which may take place within the Church. This was clearly shown in the person of Christ from the beginning. In the first place, he met with much opposition from the infatuated obstinacy of those of his own nation. In the next place, the experience of all ages shows that the dissensions and strifes with which hypocrites rend and mangle the Church, are not less hurtful in undermining the kingdom of Christ, (if God do not interpose his hand to prevent their injurious effects,) than the violent efforts of his enemies. Accordingly God, to advance and maintain the kingdom of his own Son, not only overthrows before him external enemies, but also delivers him from domestic contentions; that is to say, from those within his kingdom, which is the Church. (436) In the song in 2 Samuel, instead of these words, Thou hast made me the head of the nations, the word employed is תשמרני , tishmereni, which signifies to keep or g uard, and is therefore to be understood in this sense, that David will be securely, and for a long time, maintained in possession of the kingdom. He knew how difficult it is to keep under discipline and subjection those who have not been accustomed to the yoke; and, accordingly, nothing is of more frequent occurrence than for kingdoms which have been lately acquired by conquest to be shaken with fresh commotions. But David, in the song in Samuel, declares that God, having elevated him to such a high degree of power as to make him the head of the nations, will also maintain him in the possession of the sovereignty he had been pleased to confer upon him.
A people whom I have not known shall serve me. The whole of this passage strongly confirms what I have just now touched upon, that the statements here made are not to be restricted to the person of David, but contain a prophecy respecting the kingdom of Christ which was to come. David, it is true, might have boasted that nations, with whose manners and dispositions he was only very imperfectly acquainted, were subject to him; but it is nevertheless certain, that none of the nations which he conquered were altogether unknown to him, nor removed at so great a distance as to render it difficult for him to acquire some knowledge of them. The conquests of David, therefore, and the submission of the people to him, were only an obscure figure in which God has exhibited to us some faint representation of the boundless dominion of his own Son, whose kingdom extends“
from the rising of the sun, even unto the going down of the same,” (Malachi 1:11,)
and comprehends the whole world.
(436) “ C’est a dire au dedans de son royaume qui est l’Eglise.” — Fr.
44. At the simple fame of my name they shall obey me. This is of the same import with the last clause of the preceding verse. Although David, by his victories, had acquired such reputation and renown, that many laid down their arms and came voluntarily to surrender themselves to him; yet, as they also had been subdued through the dread of the power of his arms, which they saw their neighbors had experienced to their smart, it cannot be said, properly speaking, that at the simple fame of the name of David they submitted themselves to him. This applies more truly to the person of Christ, who, by means of his word, subdues the world to himself, and, at the simple hearing of his name, makes those obedient to him who before had been rebels against him. As David was intended to be a type of Christ, God subjected to his authority distant nations, and such as before had been unknown to Israel in so far as familiar intercourse was concerned. But that was only a prelude, and, as it were, preparatory to the dominion promised to Christ, the boundaries of which must be extended to the uttermost ends of the earth. In like manner, David had acquired to himself so great a name by arms and warlike prowess, that many of his enemies, subdued by fear, submitted themselves to him. And in this God exhibited a type of the conquest which Christ would make of the Gentiles, who, by the preaching of the Gospel alone, were subdued, and brought voluntarily to submit to his dominion; for the obedience of faith in which the dominion of Christ is founded “cometh by hearing,” (Romans 10:17.)
The children of strangers shall lie to me. Here there is described what commonly happens in new dominions acquired by conquest, namely, that those who have been vanquished pay homage with great reverence to their conqueror; but it is by a reigned and forced humility. They obey in a slavish manner, and not willingly or cheerfully. This is evidently the sense. Some interpreters, indeed, give a different explanation of the word lie, viewing David as meaning by it that his enemies had either been disappointed in their expectation, or that, in order to escape the punishment which they were afraid he might inflict upon them, they had lied in declaring that they had never devised any thing hostile against him; but it appears to me, that this does not sufficiently express what David intended. In my opinion, therefore, the words to lie are here to be understood generally as in other places, for to be humbled after a slavish manner. The Hebrew word כהש, cachash, here used, which signifies to lie, is sometimes to be understood metaphorically for to be humbled, to submit to, to take upon one’s self the yoke of subjection; (437) but still in a feigned and servile manner. Those whom he terms the children of the stranger, or of strangers, are the nations who did not belong to the people of Israel, but who, previous to their being conquered by him, formed a distinct and an independent community by themselves. This also we see fulfilled in Christ, to whom many come with apparent humility; not, however, with true affection, but with a double and false heart, whom, on that account, the Holy Spirit fitly terms strangers. They are, indeed, mingled among the chosen people, but they are not united to the same body with them by a true faith, and, therefore, ought not to be accounted children of the Church. It is very true that all the Gentiles, when in the beginning they were called into the Church, were strangers; but when they began to entertain new feelings and new affections towards Christ, they who before were “strangers and foreigners” became“
fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God,” (Ephesians 2:19.)
(437) The Syriac version reads, “They shall submit themselves to me;” meaning a forced, and so a feigned and hypocritical subjection.
What is added immediately after, (verse 45,) the children of strangers shall fade away; they shall tremble (438) from within their places of concealment, serves to place, in a still more striking light, the great fame and formidable name which we have said David had acquired. It is no ordinary sign of reverence when those who are protected in hiding-places, and shut up within steep fortifications, are so stricken with terror as to come forth of their own accord and surrender themselves. As fear made the enemies of David to come forth from their places of concealment, to meet him with submission, so the Gospel strikes the unbelieving with such fear, as compels them to yield obedience to Christ. Such is the power of prophecy, that is to say, the preaching of the word, as Paul testifies in 1 Corinthians 14:24, that, convincing the consciences of men, and making manifest the secrets of their hearts, it causes those who before were rebels to prostrate themselves with fear, and to give glory to God.
(438) The Hebrew word חרג, charag, signifies both to be moved and to tremble, and combining both ideas, to move fearfully. The last appears to be the view which Calvin attaches to the word. “Fear shall cause them to be afraid, and come forth of their secret holes and holds, to seek pardon.” — Note, Bassandyne’s Bible. Walford reads,“
The sons of the stranger lose their strength; Through alarm they quit their strongholds.
Foreign nations are confounded, and they shudder within their fortresses.”
46. Let Jehovah live. If it is thought proper to adopt this reading, which is in the optative mood expressing a wish that God might live, the manner of expression may seem somewhat strange; but it may be alleged in defense of it, that it is a metaphor borrowed from the custom of men, who not only use this manner of speaking when they wish well to any one, but likewise utter it with loud and applauding acclamation, when they intend to receive their princes with due honor. According to this view, it would be an expression in which praise is ascribed to God, and suitable for a triumphal song. (441) It may, however, be very properly considered as a simple affirmation, in which David declares that God lives, in other words, that he is endued with sovereign power. Farther, the life which David attributes to God is not to be restricted to the being or essence of God, but is rather to be understood of the evidence of it deducible from his works, which manifest to us that he liveth. Whenever he withdraws the working of his power from before our eyes, the sense and cognisance of the truth, “God liveth,” also evanishes from our minds. He is, therefore, said to live, inasmuch as he shows, by evident proofs of his power, that it is he who preserves and upholds the world. And as David had known, by experience, this life of God, he celebrates it with praises and thanksgiving. If we read the first clause in the present tense, The Lord liveth, the copula and, which follows, has the force of an inference; and, accordingly, the words should be resolved thus:— Jehovah liveth, and, therefore, blessed be my strength The epithet, My strength, and the other which occurs in verse 48, My deliverer, confirm what I have already stated, that God does not simply live in himself, and in his secret place, but displays his vital energy in the government of the whole world. The Hebrew word, צורי, tsuri, which we have translated my strength, is here to be understood in a transitive sense for Him who bestows strength.
(441) “ Ainsi ce seroit un mot tendant a lour Dieu et convenable a un cantique de triomphe.” — Fr.
47. The God who giveth me vengeance. The Psalmist again attributes to God the victories which he had obtained. As he could never have expected to obtain them unless he had been confident that he would receive the aid of God, so now he acknowledges God to be the sole author of them. That he may not seem carelessly to bestow upon him, as it were, in passing, only a small sprinkling of the praise of his victories, he repeats, in express terms, that he had nothing but what God had given him. In the first place, he acknowledges that power was given him from above, to enable him to inflict on his enemies the punishment which they deserved. It may seem at first sight strange that God should arm his own people to execute vengeance; but as I have previously shown you, we ought always to remember David’s vocation. He was not a private person, but being endued with royal power and authority, the judgment which he executed was enjoined upon him by God. If a man, upon receiving injury, breaks forth to avenge himself, he usurps the office of God; and, therefore, it is rash and impious for private individuals to retaliate the injuries which have been inflicted upon them. With respect to kings and magistrates, God, who declares that vengeance belongeth to him, in arming them with the sword, constitutes them the ministers and executioners of his vengeance. David, therefore, has put the word vengeance for the just punishments which it was lawful for him to inflict by the commandment of God, provided he was led under the influence of a zeal duly regulated by the Holy Spirit, and not under the influence of the impetuosity of the flesh. Unless this moderation is exemplified in performing the duties of their calling, it is in vain for kings to boast that God has committed to them the charge of taking vengeance; seeing it is not less unwarrantable for a man to abuse, according to his own fancy and the lust of the flesh, the sword which he is allowed to use, than to seize it without the command of God. The Church militant, which is under the standard of Christ, has no permission to execute vengeance, except against those who obstinately refuse to be reclaimed. We are commanded to endeavor to overcome our enemies by doing them good, and to pray for their salvation. It becomes us, therefore, at the same time, to desire that they may be brought to repentance, and to a right state of mind, until it appear beyond all doubt that they are irrecoverably and hopelessly depraved. In the meantime, in regard to vengeance, it must be left to God, that we may not be carried headlong to execute it before the time. David next concludes, from the perils and distresses in which he had been involved, that if he had not been preserved by the hand of God, he could not in any other way have escaped in safety: My deliverer from my enemies; yea, thou hast lifted me up from those who had risen up against me. The sense in which we are to understand the lifting up of which he speaks is, that he was wonderfully raised up above the power and malice of his enemies that he might not sink under their violence, and that they might not be victorious over him.
49. Therefore will I praise thee, O Jehovah! In this verse he teaches us that the blessings God had conferred upon him, of which he had spoken, are worthy of being celebrated with extraordinary and unusual praises, that the fame of them might reach even the heathen. There is in the words an implied contrast between the ordinary worship of God which the faithful were then accustomed to perform in the temple, and this thanksgiving of which David speaks, which could not be confined within so narrow limits. The meaning, therefore, is, O Lord, I will not only give thee thanks in the assembly of thy people, according to the ritual which thou hast appointed in thy law, but thy praises shall extend to a greater distance, even as thy grace towards me is worthy of being recounted through the whole world. Moreover, from these words we conclude that this passage contains a prophecy concerning the kingdom of Christ, which was to come. Unless the heathen had been allured into the fellowship of the chosen people, and united into one body with them, to praise God among them would have been to sing his praises among the deaf, which would have been foolish work and lost labor. Accordingly, Paul very properly and suitably proves from this text, that the calling of the Gentiles was not a thing which happened by chance, or at a venture, (Romans 15:9.) We shall afterwards see in many places that the Church is appointed to be the sacred dwelling-place for showing forth the praises of God. And, therefore, the name of God could not have been rightly and profitably celebrated elsewhere than in Judea, until the ears of the Gentiles were opened, which was done when God adopted them, and called them to himself by the gospel.
50. He worketh great deliverances, etc This concluding verse clearly shows why God had exercised such goodness and liberality towards David, namely, because he had anointed him to be king. By calling himself God’s king, David testifies that he had not rashly rushed into that office, nor was thrust into it by conspiracies and wicked intrigues, but, on the contrary, reigned by lawful right, inasmuch as it was the will of God that he should be king. This he proves by the ceremony of anointing; for God, in anointing him by the hand of Samuel, had asserted his right to reign not less than if he had visibly stretched forth his hand from heaven to place and establish him on the royal throne. This election, he says, was confirmed by a continued series of great deliverances; and from this it follows, that all who enter on any course without having the call of God, are chargeable with avowedly making war against him. At the same time, he attributes these deliverances to the goodness of God as their cause, to teach us, that that kingdom was founded purely and simply upon the good pleasure of God. Farther, from the concluding sentence of the psalm, it appears, as I have said before, that David does not here so much recount by way of history the singular and varied instances of the grace of God which he had personally experienced, as predict the everlasting duration of his kingdom. And it is to be observed, that by the word seed we are not to understand all his descendants indiscriminately; but we are to consider it as particularly referring to that successor of David of whom God had spoken in 2 Samuel 7:12, promising that he would be a father to him. As it had been predicted that his kingdom would continue as long as the sun and the moon should shine in the heavens, the prophecy must necessarily be viewed as descending to him who was to be king not for a time, but for ever. David, therefore, commends his seed to us, as honored by that remarkable promise, which fully applies neither to Solomon nor to any other of his successors, but to the only begotten Son of God; as the apostle, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, (Hebrews 1:4,) teaches us, that this is a dignity in which he excels the angels. In conclusion, we shall then only duly profit in the study of this psalm, when we are led by the contemplation of the shadow and type to him who is the substance.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Psalms 18". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13