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1.Save me, O God! for the waters, etc. Under the figure of waters, the Psalmist represents his condition as so extremely distressing that it brought him even to the brink of despair; and yet we know that, so far from being a soft and an effeminate person, he was one who encountered and overcame dreadful temptations with extraordinary courage. Whence we may infer the bitterness of the distress with which he was at that time afflicted. Some understand the word soul as denoting life; (68) but this gives a very cold and unsatisfactory meaning. It rather signifies the heart. A man when he falls into an abyss of waters, may prevent for some time the water from entering his body, by stopping his mouth and his nostrils, but at length, from its being impossible for a human being to live without respiration, suffocation will compel him to let in the waters, and they will penetrate even to the heart. David by this metaphor would intimate, not only that the waters had covered and overwhelmed him, but also that he had been forced to draw them into his body.
(68) “The waters are come in unto my soul; i. e. , a flood of overwhelming calamities threaten my life: comp. verse 16.” —Cresswell. Williams thinks the allusion is to a leaky vessel, or to an inundation.
2.I am sunk in deep mire, where there is no standing place Here he compares his afflictions to a deep sink of mire, where there is still greater danger; for if a man fixes his feet upon a solid bottom, he may raise himself up, there having been many instances in which persons, placing their feet on the bottom, have by a sudden spring emerged and escaped the peril of the waters; but when a man finds himself once sunk in some slough or muddy river, it is all over with him, he has no means of saving himself. (69) The Psalmist adduces additional circumstances in illustration of his afflicted condition. He declares that he was inundated by the flowing of the waters; an expression indicating the disorder and confusion which his distresses and persecutions produced.
3I am weary of crying David, in seeking and calling upon God, when his affairs were in such a confused and desperate condition, exhibited an instance of rare and wonderful patience. He complains of having continued crying until he was exhausted and became hoarse, and all to no purpose. By the word weary, he does not mean that he gave up with prayer, as if he had cast from him all love to and delight in that exercise upon finding that it proved unavailing as a means of deliverance. He rather describes his untiring perseverance; and the same idea is expressed by his hoarse throat and failing eyes. (70) He certainly did not cry out before men from mere affectation, nor was this hoarseness contracted in the course of one day. We perceive, then, that although his bodily senses failed him, the vigor of his faith was by no means extinguished. When we reflect that David has spoken, as it were, out of the mouth of Christ, and, as it were, out of the mouth of all true saints who are the members of Christ, we ought not to think that any strange thing happens to us, if at any time we are so overwhelmed with death, as to be unable to discern the slightest hope of life. Yea, rather let us learn betimes, while God spares us, to meditate on this truth, and derive the aid which it is fitted to impart under calamity, that even in the most profound depths of adversity faith may hold us up, and, what is more, may elevate us to God; there being, as Paul testifies, (Romans 8:39) no height nor depth which can separate us from the infinite love of Him who swallows up all depths, yea, even hell itself.
(70) “‘My sight faileth me,’ etc. This is said metaphorically, the metaphor being taken from the pain occasioned to the eyes when they are long and intently fixed upon the same point.” — Cresswell
4.They who hate me without cause are more in number than the hairs of my head The Psalmist now expresses without figure what he had said under the metaphors of the mire and of the impetuous rushing of the waters. Persecuted as he was by so great a multitude of enemies, he had too good reason to be afraid of death in innumerable ways. Nor is his language hyperbolical, when he represents his enemies as more in number than the hairs of his head, since he was mortally hated and detested by the whole kingdom, it being the universal belief that he was a base and wicked traitor to his country. Farther, we know from the sacred history how numerous and powerful the armies were which Saul sent forth to pursue him. He expresses the mortal hatred which they bore to him, when he tells us that they were intently set upon his destruction, being eagerly desirous to have him cut off by a violent death; and yet he avows that he had done nothing to merit such unrelenting persecution. The Hebrew word
(71) “There is an apparent impropriety in the language of this verse, though the sense is perfectly clear. It is a proverbial expression, to mark the injustice and extortion of the enemies that are referred to, who compelled the speaker, without any right, to yield up his goods to persons to whom he was not indebted.” — Walford. Horsley observes, that this last clause is a proverbial expression, the meaning of which is, “I have been accountable for the crimes of others.” Dr Adam Clarke also remarks, that this is a sort of proverbial expression like these: “Those who suffered the wrong pay the costs” — “Kings sin and the people are punished.” This pre-eminently applies to Christ, who was perfectly holy, but who, by bearing the punishment due to the guilt of man, made satisfaction to Divine justice for sins which he never committed, and restored those blessings which he never took away.
5.O God! thou knowest my foolishness Augustine has labored to little purpose to show in what way these words are applicable to Christ; and at length he transfers to his members that which could not properly be said of the Head. (72) David here uses the language of irony; and by this mode of expressing himself he meant to intimate, that, overwhelmed with the unrighteous judgments of men, he betakes himself to God, and implores him to appear as the defender of his cause. This is much more emphatic than if he had affirmed plainly, and without figure, that his integrity was known to God. In this way he administers a sharp rebuke to his enemies, and as it were looks down with a noble contempt upon the calumnious speeches which they uttered against him; as Jeremiah does when he says,
“O Lord! thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived.”
Some ignorant people put a violent construction on these words of Jeremiah, as if they implied that he was actually deceived; whereas he is rather to be understood as deriding with bitter sarcasm his calumniators, who, in speaking evil of him, were chargeable with reproaching and blaspheming God himself. David in like manner, in the passage before us, as a means of preserving himself from succumbing under the perverse judgments of men, appeals to God as the judge of his cause; and possessing as he did the approving testimony of a good conscience, he regards in a great measure with indifference the unjust estimate which men might form of his character. It were indeed desirable that our integrity should also be acknowledged and approved of by men, and that not so much on our own account as for the edification of our brethren. But if, after we have done all in our power to make men form a favorable opinion respecting us, they misconstruct and pervert every good word which we utter, and every good action which we perform, we ought to maintain such greatness of mind as boldly to despise the world and all false accusers, resting contented with the judgment of God and with that alone; for those who are over anxious about maintaining their good name cannot but often experience fainting of heart. Let us be always ready to satisfy men; but if they refuse to listen to what we have to say in self-vindication, let us proceed in our course through evil report as well as good report, following the example of Paul where he fearlessly appeals to the judgment of God,
“who will bring to light the hidden things of dark,”
(1 Corinthians 4:5)
(72) According to Augustine, the Messiah, when he says “my foolishness” and “my iniquities,” speaks of the sins of men which were imputed to him, and for which he suffered and died under the curse of the law, which treated him as if he had been a sinner, in consequence of the sins thus imputed to him. A similar interpretation is given by Bishops Horsley and Horne, as well as many others. “The Messiah,” says the first of these critics, “here, as in many places, may speak of the follies and crimes of men, for which he had made himself answerable as his own.” Admitting, as we are disposed to do, although Calvin takes an opposite view, that the passage is applicable to Christ, it may be doubted whether this is the correct interpretation. The sins of those for whom Christ died, by being imputed to him, no doubt became his in the eye of the law, in such a sense as to make him answerable for them. But the Scriptures, be it observed, while they speak of him as “wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities,” and as “bearing our sins in his own body on the tree,” as if afraid to use any forms of expression which would even seem to derogate from his immaculate purity, never speak of the sins of those for whom he died as his own sins. What Horsley adds, as an additional explanation, is very unguarded. “Perhaps,” says he, “He who, although he was without sin, was yet tempted in all points like up to us, might, in his humility, speak of the incitement of the passions in his own mind as weakness and fault, making confession of it before the Father.” Nothing, doubtless, was farther from the mind of the prelate than to teach any thing inconsistent with the perfect holiness of the Son of God; and he expressly warns that “he was without sin;” but the language which he employs is scarcely consistent with this position, and it can convey no idea on the subject except an erroneous one. “The prince of this world cometh,” said Jesus to his disciples, “and hath nothing in me” —hath nothing in me, that is, to use the words of Dr Doddridge, “no guilt of mine to give him power over me; nor any inward corruption, to take part with his temptations.” The explanation of the text, which appears to be the most natural and consistent, is that which considers the Savior as solemnly appealing to the Father in vindication of his innocence. His enemies falsely charged him with crimes, and made these charges the ground of their cruel and malignant proceedings against him. The Divine Sufferer, therefore, with confidence appeals to God, saying, Thou, who art the omniscient and all-righteous Judge, knowest that I am innocent of the crimes laid to my charge, and I invoke thee to plead my cause. This interpretation, which is adopted by many eminent critics, as Dr Boothroyd, Dr Morrison, Walford, and others, is strongly supported by the context. The preceding verse contains strong assertions of his innocence; and it was very natural to accompany these with an appeal from the falsehood and calumny of men, to the all-seeing and righteous Judge of the universe.
6O Jehovah, Lord of Hosts! let not them that wait for thee be ashamed in me. David declares that he is set forth as an example from which all the people of God may derive matter either of hope or despair. Although he was held in detestation and execrated by the great body of the people, there yet remained a few who were ready to bear just and impartial testimony to his innocence; knowing as they did that he was unrighteously afflicted by his persecutors, that he constantly reposed on the grace and goodness of God, and that no temptations could discourage or prevent him from continuing steadfast in the practice of true godliness. But when they observed the distresses and calamities to which he was notwithstanding subjected, the only conclusion to which they were able to arrive was, that all the pains and labor which he had taken in devoutly serving God were entirely thrown away. As all the instances in which God extends his succor to his servants are so many seals, by which he confirms and gives us assurance of his goodness and grace towards us, the faithful must have been exceedingly discouraged had David been forsaken in the extremity of his distress. The danger of their being thus discouraged he now lays before God; not that God has ever need of being put in mind of any thing, but because he allows us to deal familiarly with him at the throne of grace. The word wait is properly to be understood of hope, and the expression to seek God, of prayer. The connecting of the two together teaches us the profitable lesson, that faith is not all inactive principle, since it is the means of stirring us up to seek God.
7For on thy account I have suffered reproach He now expresses more distinctly what he had stated ironically in the fifth verse, where he asserts that his faults were not hidden from God. Nay, he proceeds farther, declaring not only that the evil treatment which he met with from his enemies was unjust and altogether unmerited, but also that his cause was really God’s cause, since whatever he had undertaken and engaged in was expressly in obedience to the command of God. Saul no doubt had other reasons, or at least other pretences, for persecuting David; but as the hatred which he entertained against him most unquestionably proceeded from God’s having called and anointed him to be king, David here justly protests that it was not for any wickedness which he had committed, but because he had obeyed God, that men in general disapproved of and rashly condemned him. It is a source of great consolation to true believers when they can protest that they have the warrant and call of God for whatever they undertake or engage in. If we are hated by the world for making a public confession of the faith, a thing which we are to expect, it being evident from observation that the wicked ordinarily are never more fierce than when they assault the truth of God and the true religion, we have ground to entertain double confidence. (74) We also learn from this passage how monstrous is the malice of men, who convert into a ground for reproach and reprehension the zeal for the Divine glory by which true believers are animated. (75) But it is well for us that God not only wipes away the reproaches with which the wicked load us, but also so ennobles them, that they surpass all the honors and triumphs of the world. The Psalmist farther aggravates his complaint by the additional circumstance, that he was cruelly cast off by his own relations and friends; from which we are taught, that when by our devotedness to the cause of religion we cannot avoid exciting the displeasure of our brethren against us, it is our duty simply to follow God, and not to confer with flesh and blood.
(74) That is, the confidence arising from the reflection that we are, in the first place, suffering unjustly; and, secondly, that we are suffering in the cause of God.
9For the zeal of thy house hath eaten me up (76) David’s enemies, no doubt, professed that nothing was farther from their mind than to touch the sacred name of God; but he reproves their hypocritical pretences, and affirms that he is fighting in God’s quarrel. The manner in which he did this, he shows, was by the zeal for the Church of God with which his soul was inflamed. He not only assigns the cause of the evil treatment which he received — his zeal for the house of God — but also declares that whatever evil treatment he was undeservedly made the object of, yet, as it were, forgetting himself, he burned with a holy zeal to maintain the Church, and at the same time the glory of God, with which it is inseparably connected. To make this the more obvious, let it be observed, that although all boast in words of allowing to God the glory which belongs to him; yet when the law, the rule of virtuous and holy living, presents its claims to them, men only mock him, and not only so, but they furiously rush against him by the opposition which they make to his Word. They do this as if he willed to be honored and served merely with the breath of the lip, and had not rather erected a throne among men, from which to govern them by laws. David, therefore, here places the Church in the room of God; not that it was his intention to transfer to the Church what is proper to God, but to show the vanity of the pretensions which men make of being the people of God, when they shake themselves loose from the control of God’s holy law, of which the Church is the faithful guardian. Besides, David had to deal with a class of men who, although a hypocritical and bastard race, professed to be the people of God; for all who adhered to Saul boasted of having a place in the Church, and stigmatised David as an apostate or a rotten member. With this unworthy treatment David was so far from being discouraged, that he willingly sustained all assaults for the defense of the true Church. He declares that he is unmoved by all the wrongs and revilings which he personally suffered at the hands of his enemies. Laying aside all concern about himself, he is disquieted and distressed only for the oppressed condition of the Church, or rather burns with anguish, and is consumed with the vehemence of his grief.
The second clause of the verse is to the same effect, denoting that he has nothing separate from God. Some explain it in a different sense, understanding it to mean that the wicked and proud, with the view of making an assault upon David, directed their fury and violence against God himself, and in this way indirectly pierced the heart of this holy man with their blasphemies, knowing as they did that nothing would be more grievous to him to bear than this. But this interpretation is too forced. Equally forced is that of those who consider David as intimating that he did not less prostrate himself in humble supplication at the mercy-seat whenever he heard the name of God torn by reproaches and blasphemy, than if he himself had been guilty of treason against the Divine Majesty. I therefore adhere to the opinion which I have already expressed, That David forgot what concerned himself, and that all the grief which he felt proceeded from the holy zeal with which he burned when he saw the sacred name of God insulted and outraged with horrible blasphemies. By this example we are taught, that whereas we are naturally so tender and delicate as to be unable to bear ignominy and reproach, we must endeavor to get quit of this unhappy state of mind, and ought rather to be grieved and agonised with the reproaches which are poured forth against God. On account of these, it becomes us to feel deep indignation, and even to give expression to this in strong language; but we ought to bear the wrongs and reproaches which we personally suffer without complaining. Until we have learned to set very little value upon our own reputation, we will never be inflamed with true zeal in contending for the preservation and advancement of the interests of the Divine glory. Besides, as David speaks in the name of the whole Church, whatever he says concerning himself behoved to be fulfilled in the supreme Head. It is, therefore, not surprising to find the Evangelists applying this passage to Christ, (John 2:17.) In like manner, Paul, in Romans 15:3, exhorting the faithful to imitate Christ, applies the second member to them all, and there also teaches us that the doctrine contained in it is very comprehensive, requiring them to devote themselves wholly to the advancement of the Divine glory, to endeavor in all their words and actions to preserve it unimpaired, and to be carefully on their guard that it may not be obscured by any fault of theirs. Since Christ, in whom there shines forth all the majesty of Deity, did not hesitate to expose himself to every species of reproach for the maintenance of his Father’s glory, how base and shameful will it be for us to shrink from a similar lot.
(76) The verb means not only ‘to eat up, to devour,’ but ‘to corrode or consume,’ by separating the parts from each other, as fire, (see Parkhurst on
10.And I wept, my soul fasted David here proves, by the signs or effects, that his efforts to promote the Divine glory proceeded from a pure and well-regulated zeal, inasmuch as he was not impelled or inflamed by the impetuosity of the flesh, but rather humbly abased himself before God, choosing him to be the witness of his sorrow. By this he shows the more evidently the incorrigible perversity of his enemies. It frequently happens, that those who set themselves boldly for the vindication of the glory of God, provoke and exasperate the wicked to a higher pitch by opposing them contentiously and without moderation. But David’s zeal was so tempered that it ought to have softened even the hardness of steel. By this circumstance he, however, intended to show that he was oppressed with such violence by the frowardness of his enemies, that he dared not even open his mouth to speak a single word in defense of the cause of God, and no other means were left him of defending it but tears and mourning. He was deprived, as we know, of the liberty of giving utterance to the sentiments of his heart, or rather his words, as being those of a condemned person, would have been repelled with cruel reproaches. It was a proof of the greater constancy when in such circumstances he continued to burn with a zeal as unabated as ever, and persevered in the voluntary sorrow which he had engaged to exercise with the view of maintaining the honor and glory of God. He accordingly declares, that he wept and that his soul fasted, and that he was clothed with sackcloth; which were the tokens of mourning among the Jews. But his enemies turned all these things into mockery and jesting; (77) from which it is manifest that they were carried away with the fury of demons. It is of importance for us to be fortified with such an example, that in the present day we may not be discouraged when we meet with the same perversity by which the enemies of the Gospel prove themselves to be rather devils than men. We must, however, beware of pouring oil upon the fire which is already burning too fiercely, and should rather imitate David and Lot, who, although they had not liberty to rebuke the wicked, were yet deeply grieved in their hearts. And even when the wicked are constrained to hear us, mildness and humility will be a powerful means, or rather will be the best seasoning, for tempering holy zeal. Those who conceive of David as intimating that he resigned himself to suffer punishment in the room or stead of his enemies, attempt to confirm their opinion from his having clothed himself in sackcloth. But I take it more simply as meaning, that when he saw things in such a state of confusion, he voluntarily engaged in this sorrowful exercise to testify that nothing was more grievous to him than to witness the sacred name of God exposed to contumely.
(77) “That was turned to my reproach; i. e. , it was made a subject of reproach to me.” — Cresswell.
12.They who sit in the gate defame me Had David been molested only by vulgar buffoons and the refuse of the people, it would have been more easily endured; for it is not surprising that mean persons, who have no regard to what is becoming and honorable, degrade themselves by indulging in defamation without shame. But when the very judges, forgetful of what is demanded by the dignity of their office, abandon themselves to the same audacious conduct, the iniquity and baseness of it is greatly aggravated. Accordingly, David expressly complains that he was made a by-word and a proverb by those in the highest ranks of life. The opinion of some who, by the expression, they who sit in the gate, understand the whole people, (78) is both frigid and inconsistent with the words of the text; for although men of every rank and condition assembled at the gates, yet none but the judges and counsellors sat there. (79) This is confirmed by the second clause of the verse; for bythose who drink strong drink, (80) is doubtless meant the rulers who were elevated by their wealth and dignity. It was, indeed, very cruel treatment, that this holy man was not only harassed by the lower classes of the people, but that the very persons who presided in the cause of justice, and the dignitaries of the Church, were in this ringleaders to others. As the same thing happens in our own day, it is not without cause that the Holy Spirit has set this example before our eyes. In the Papacy we find that the higher a man is exalted in honor, he is proportionally the more violent and outrageous in his opposition to the Gospel and its ministers, that he may exhibit himself a more valiant defender of the Catholic faith. Yea, this is a malady with which almost all kings and princes are smitten; which arises from their not regarding true dignity and excellence as consisting in virtue, and from their thinking that they are entitled to act without restraint as they please. And what is the estimation in which they hold the faithful servants of Christ? It is a fact which cannot be denied, that one of the principal things about which they are concerned is, to scoff at and defame them, not only at their tables, but also on their thrones, in order, if possible, to shame them into a renunciation of their faith. In general, also, they sneer at all the people of God, and enjoy themselves in descanting upon their simplicity, as if they were fools in wearying and wasting themselves in the service of God.
(78) “They that sit in the gate — vain and idle persons who spent their time there, in which there used to be a confluence of people.” — Rosenmuller. “They that sit in the gate; i. e. , the elders. The expression may, however, be put for the crowd assembled there to hear the decisions of the magistrates: compare 2 Kings 7:1.” — Cresswell.
(79) Judges sat there in the exercise of their judicial functions; the gates of cities being anciently the places where courts of judicature were held for trying all causes, and deciding all affairs. See Job 29:7, compared with Job 29:12; Deuteronomy 25:7; Ruth 4:1; 1 Kings 22:10; Esther 2:19.
13.But as for me, my prayer is to thee, O Jehovah! It was a sign of uncommon virtue in David, that even this hard treatment could not shake his mind, and sink him into despondency. He informs us of the means by which he fortified himself against that terrible stumbling-block. When the wicked directed against him their witty and scoffing remarks, as if engines of war, to overthrow his faith, the means to which he had recourse for repelling all their assaults was pouring out his heart in prayer to God. He was constrained to keep silence before men, and, being thus driven out from the world, he betook himself to God. In like manner, although the faithful in the present day may be unable to make any impression upon the wicked, yet they will ultimately triumph, provided they retire from the world, and go directly to God to present their prayers before him. The meaning, in short, is, that David, having tried every means in his power, and finding that his labor was to no purpose, left off dealing with men, and dealt with God only. What follows, a time of thy favor, O God! is explained otherwise by many interpreters, who read the two clauses of the verse in one sentence, thus: But as for me, I prayed to God in a time of his favor; corresponding to that passage in Isaiah 55:6, “Call ye upon him while he is near.” Others resolve it thus: I prayed that the time of favor might come, and that God would begin to be merciful to me. But David is rather speaking of the consolation which he then received by reflecting with himself, that although it was now a time of trouble with him, and although his prayers seemed to be altogether unavailing, yet God’s favor would have its turn also. Thus the Prophet Habakkuk says,
“I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will
watch to see what he will say unto me.” (Habakkuk 2:1)
In like manner, Isaiah says,
“I will wait upon the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob;” (Isaiah 8:17)
and Jeremiah 14:22,) “We will wait upon thee.” The only means by which, in our affliction, we can obtain the victory, is by our having hope shining in us in the midst of darkness, and by our having the sustaining influence which arises from waiting for the favor of God. After David has thus fortified himself for continued perseverance in the attitude of waiting, he immediately adds, Answer me in the multitude of thy goodness; and to goodness he joins the truth of salvation, (81) intimating that God’s mercy is proved by indubitable effect when he succours his servants who are reduced to the very depths of despair. What prompted him to present this prayer was, the full persuasion which he had, that the darkness in which he was now involved would in due time be dispelled, and that a serene and unclouded season of God’s favor would succeed; a persuasion which arose from his recalling all his thoughts to God, lest he should faint by reason of the harassing treatment which he met with from the wicked.
(81) Dr Wells explains, the truth of thy salvation, as meaning, “according to the promises thou hast made of saving me.”
14.Deliver me from the mire, that I may not sink. The Psalmist repeats the same similitude which he had used before, but in a different manner. He had previously said that he was sunk in the mire, and now he prays that he may not sink in it. In short, he now prays that those things may not now befall him which he had formerly complained of as having befallen him. But it is very easy to reconcile this diversity of statement; for in the opening of the psalm he spake according to his actual feeling and experience; but now, looking to the issue, although living in the midst of death, he cherishes the hope of deliverance. This is expressed still more clearly in the last clause of the 15th verse, where he prays, Let not the pit close its mouth upon me; which is as if he had said, Let not the great multitude and weight of my afflictions overwhelm me, and let not sorrow swallow me up.
16.Answer me, O Jehovah! for thy mercy is good. The appeal which he here makes to the mercy and compassion of God is an evidence of the distressed condition into which he was brought. There can be no doubt that he sustained a dreadful conflict, when he had recourse to these as the only means of his safety. It is a very difficult matter to believe that God is merciful to us when he is angry with us, and that he is near us when he has withdrawn himself from us. David, aware of this, brings to his view a subject which he may oppose to this distrust, and by pleading for the exercise of the mercy and great compassions of God towards him, shows, that the only consideration which inspired him with hope was the benignant and merciful character of God. When he says, a little after, Look upon me, it is a prayer that God would make it manifest in very deed that he had heard him by granting him succor. In the following verse he utters a similar prayer. And by repeating so often the same things, he declares both the bitterness of his grief and the ardor of his desires. When he beseeches God not to hide his face, it is not from any apprehension which he entertained of being rejected, but because those who are oppressed with calamities cannot avoid being agitated and distracted with mental disquietude. But as God, in a peculiar manner, invites his servants to him, David avows that he is one of their number. In thus speaking, as I have already shown, and will afterwards have occasion to state at greater length, he does not boast of services on account of which he could prefer any claim to a divine reward, but rather depends on the gratuitous election of God; although, at the same time, he is to be understood as adducing the service which he had faithfully yielded to God by whom he was called, as an evidence of his godliness.
18.Draw near to my soul, redeem it. David was doubtless fully persuaded by faith that God was near him; but as we are accustomed to measure the presence or absence of God by the effects, David here tacitly complains, judging according to the flesh, that he is far from him. By the expression, Draw near, he means, that in so far as could be gathered from his actual condition, God appeared to have no regard to his welfare. Again, by calling upon God to draw near to his life, which he seemed to have forsaken, he exhibits a striking proof of the strength of his faith. The more cruelly he is molested by the wicked and proud, the more does he trust that God will appear to deliver him. As has been elsewhere observed, it is always to be held as an undoubted truth, that since “God resisteth the proud” (James 4:6,) he must at length repress the insolence and pride of those who obstinately resist him, although he may seem to connive at them for a time.
19Thou knowest my reproach, and my confusion. This is a confirmation of the preceding sentence. Whence is it that the greater part of men become dispirited when they see the wicked outrageously rushing upon them, and their wickedness, like a water-flood, carrying all before it, but because they think that heaven is so obscured and overcast with clouds as to prevent God from beholding what is done upon the earth? It becomes us, therefore, in this matter, to call to our remembrance the doctrine of a Divine Providence, that contemplating it we may be assured beyond all doubt, that God will appear for our succor in due season; for he cannot, on the one hand, shut his eyes to our miseries, and it is impossible for him, on the other, to allow the license which the wicked take in doing evil to pass with impunity, without denying himself. David, therefore, takes comfort from the consideration that God is the witness of his grief, fear, sorrows, and cares; nothing being hidden from the eye of Him who is the judge and governor of the world. Nor is it a vain repetition when he speaks so frequently of his reproach and shame. As he was subjected to such dreadful assaults of temptations as might have made the stoutest heart to tremble, it was indispensably necessary for his own defense to oppose to them a strong barrier for resistance. Nothing is more bitter to men of an ingenuous and noble spirit than reproach; but when this is repeated, or rather when shame and reproach are heaped upon us, how needful is it then for us to possess more than ordinary strength, that we may not thereby be overwhelmed? for when succor is delayed, our patience is very apt to give way, and despair very easily creeps in upon us. This shame and reproach may very properly be referred both to the outward appearance and to the actual feelings of the mind. It is well known that he was everywhere held in open derision; and the mockeries which he experienced could not but strike into him both shame and sorrow. For the same reason he subjoins that his enemies are before God, or known to him; as if he had said, Lord, thou knowest how, like a poor sheep, I am surrounded by thousands of wolves.
20.Reproach hath broken my heart, and I am afflicted. He expresses more distinctly not only that he was confounded, or ashamed at the sad aspect which he presented of having been deserted, but that he was well nigh overwhelmed with sorrow by lying so long under reproach and shame. Whence it is evident that he did not overcome this sorrow without a struggle; and that the reason why he so firmly withstood the waves of temptations was, not because they did not reach his heart, but because, being sorely smitten, he made resistance with a corresponding degree of intrepidity. He states, as an additional aggravation of his distress, that every office of humanity was withheld from him: that there was nobody who had compassion upon him, or to whom he could disburden his griefs. Some take the word
21.And they put gall into my meat. Here he again repeats that his enemies carry their cruelty towards him to the utmost extent in their power. He speaks metaphorically when he describes them as mingling gall or poison with his meat, (85) and vinegar with his drink; even as it is said in Jeremiah,
“Behold, I will feed them, even this people, with wormwood,
and give them water of gall to drink.” (Jeremiah 9:15)
But still the Apostle John justly declares that this Scripture was fulfilled when the soldiers gave Christ vinegar to drink upon the cross, (John 19:28;) for it was requisite that whatever cruelty the reprobate exercise towards the members of Christ, should by a visible sign be represented in Christ himself. We have stated on the same principle, in our remarks upon Psalms 22:18, that when the soldiers parted the garments of Christ among them, that verse was appropriately quoted, “They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots;” although David’s object was to express by figurative language that he was robbed, and that all his goods were violently taken from him, and made a prey of by his enemies. The natural sense must, however, be retained; which is, that the holy prophet had no relief afforded him; and that he was in a condition similar to that of a man who, already too much afflicted, found, as an additional aggravation of his distress, that his meat was poisoned, and his drink rendered nauseous by the bitter ingredients with which it had been mingled.
(85) The word
Vinegar, we conceive, here means sour wine, such as was given to slaves or prisoners in the East. Persons in better circumstances used lemons or pomegranates to give their drink a grateful acidity. It was therefore a great insult offered to a royal personage to give him in his thirst the refreshment of a slave or of a wretched prisoner; and David employs this figure to express the insults which were offered to him by his enemies. See Harmer ’s Observations, volume 2, pp. 158, 159.
22.Let their table before them be for a snare. Here we have a series of dire imprecations, with respect to which we must bear in mind, what we have elsewhere observed, that David did not allow himself recklessly to pour out his wrath, even as the greater part of men, when they feel themselves wronged, intemperately give way to their own passion; but, being under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he was kept from going beyond the bounds of duty, (88) and simply called upon God to exercise just judgment against the reprobate. Farther, it was not on his own account that he pleaded in this manner; but it was a holy zeal for the divine glory which impelled him to summon the wicked to God’s judgment-seat. It was also owing to this: that he was not carried away by violence of passion, like those who are actuated by a desire of taking revenge. Since, then, the Spirit of wisdom, uprightness, and moderation, put these imprecations into the mouth of David, his example cannot justly be pleaded in self-vindication by those who pour forth their wrath and spite upon every one that comes in their way, or who are carried away by a foolish impatience to take revenge; never allowing themselves to reflect for a moment what good purpose this can serve, nor making any efforts to keep their passion within due bounds. We need wisdom by which to distinguish between those who are wholly reprobate and those of whose amendment there is still some hope; we have also need of uprightness, that none may devote himself exclusively to his own private interests; and of moderation too, to dispose our minds to calm endurance. It being evident, then, that David was distinguished by these three qualities, whoever would follow him aright, must not allow himself to break forth with reckless and blind impetuosity into the language of imprecation; he must, moreover, repress the turbulent passions of his mind, and, instead of confining his thoughts exclusively to his own private interests, should rather employ his desires and affections in seeking to advance the glory of God. In short, if we would be true imitators of David, we must first clothe ourselves with the character of Christ, that he may not administer to us at the present day the same rebuke which he gave to two of his disciples of old,
“Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of,”
David had complained that his enemies mingled his meat with gall; and now he prays that their table may be turned into a snare for them, and that the things which are for peace may be turned into a net for them. These expressions are metaphorical, and they imply a desire that whatever things had been allotted to them in providence for the preservation of life, and for their welfare and convenience, might be turned by God into the occasion or instrument of their destruction. From this we gather that as things which naturally and of themselves are hurtful, become the means of furthering our welfare when we are in favor with God; so, when his anger is kindled against us, all those things which have a native tendency to produce our happiness are cursed, and become so many causes of our destruction. It is an instance of the Divine justice, which ought deeply to impress our minds with awe, when the Holy Spirit declares that all the means of preserving life are deadly to the reprobate, (Titus 1:15;) so that the very sun, which carries healing under his wings, (Malachi 4:2,) breathes only a deadly exhalation for them.
23.Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see. The Psalmist here refers chiefly to two powers of the body, those of the eyes and of the loins; and I have no hesitation in considering his language as a prayer that God would deprive his enemies of reason and understanding, and at the same time enfeeble their strength, that they might be altogether unfitted for exerting themselves in any way. We know how indispensable it is, in order to the doing of any thing aright, that counsel go before to give light, and that there should also be added the power of putting what is purposed into execution. The curse here expressed impends over the heads of all the enemies of the Church; and, therefore, we have no reason to be terrified at the malice or fury of the wicked. God, whenever he pleases, can strike them suddenly with blindness, that they may see nothing, and by breaking their loins, (89) lay them prostrate in shame and confusion.
(89) The loins are the seat of strength in every animal; and hence the prayer, “Make their loins continually to tremble,” is just a prayer that their strength might be impaired, or entirely taken away.
24.Pour out thy fury upon them. It is not surprising that David utters a lengthened series of imprecations; for we know well that the frantic enemies of the Church, into whom it was his object to inspire terror, are not easily moved. He therefore lifts up his voice against them in tones of greater vehemence, that they might be led to desist from their wrongful and insolent conduct. He, however, had principally an eye to true believers, who, being oppressed with calamities, have no other stay to lean upon, but such as arises from the voice which they hear proceeding from the mouth of God, declaring the terrible vengeance which is prepared for their enemies, if, indeed, they are among the reprobate. As to those of whose repentance and amendment there was some hope, David would have had them to be corrected by chastisements; but as to those whose repentance and reformation were hopeless, he prays that destruction may fall upon their heads, that thus they might not escape the punishment which was appointed for them, and which they had deserved.
25Let their habitation be desolate. Here he proceeds farther than in the preceding verse, praying that God would cause his wrath to descend to their posterity; and it is no new thing for the sins of the fathers to be cast into the bosom of the children. As David uttered these imprecations by the inspiration and influence of the Holy Spirit, so he took them out of the law itself, in which God threatens that he will
“visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate him,” (Exodus 20:5)
In this way he desires that the memorial of them may be cursed, and that thus God would not spare them even after their death.
26.For they have persecuted him whom thou hast smitten. He brings forward the crime with which they were chargeable, to make it manifest that they richly deserved such dreadful punishments. Some explain the verse in this way: “These enemies, O Lord! not content with the strokes which thou hast inflicted, have exercised their cruelty upon a wretched man, who had already been wounded by thy hand.” And as it is the dictate of humanity to succor the afflicted, he who treads down the oppressed most assuredly betrays the brutal cruelty of his disposition. Others reject this exposition, whether upon sufficient ground I know not, observing that David, properly speaking, was not stricken or wounded by the hand of God, it being of the violent rage of his enemies that he complains through the whole of the psalm. Accordingly, they have recourse to a subtle interpretation, and view David as meaning that his enemies wickedly pretended that they had just cause against him, and boasted of being the ministers of God, whose office it was to execute punishment upon him as a wicked person. This is a pretext under which the wicked generally shield themselves, and by which they are led to think that they may lawfully do what they please against those who are in misery, without ever being called to account for it. Thus we find this purpose of the wicked expressed in another place,
“Come let us persecute him, for God hath forsaken him;
for there is none to deliver him,” (Psalms 71:11.)
But I am rather of opinion that the Psalmist applies the term smitten to the man whom God intended to humble as one of his own children; so that in the very chastisement or correction, there was engraven a mark of God’s paternal love. And he employs the expression, the wounded of God, almost in the same sense in which Isaiah 26:19 speaks of the dead of God, the prophet thereby denoting those who continue under the Divine guardianship, even in death itself. This cannot be extended to all men in general, but is exclusively applicable to true believers, whose obedience God puts to the test by means of afflictions. If from this the wicked take occasion to persecute the righteous with greater severity, it is not to be wondered at if they involve themselves in heavier damnation. Upon seeing such examples set before them, the manner in which they should have reasoned with themselves is this,
“If these things are done in a green tree,
what shall be done in the dry?” (Luke 23:31.)
But from their becoming more and more hardened, it is evident that the pride and insolence which they manifest against the children of God proceed from contempt and hatred of true religion. The Hebrew word
(90) This is the translation given by the LXX., who read,
27.Add iniquity to their iniquity. As the Hebrew word
(91) This is the idea attached to it by Horsley, who translates the verse thus: “Give them punishment upon punishment, and admit them not to thy justification.” Cresswell explains it thus: “Let them not be restored to thy favor, nor experience thy clemency.”
(93) This is the explanation given by Hammond. The Hebrew word
(94) In the French version, the two last verbs of the sentence are put in the future tense, by which the idea conveyed is somewhat modified: “
28.Let them be blotted out from the book of the living. (95) This is the last imprecation, and it is the most dreadful of the whole; but it nevertheless uniformly follows the persevered in impenitence and incorrigible obduracy of which the Psalmist has spoken above. After having taken away from them all hope of repentance, he denounces against them eternal destruction, which is the obvious meaning of the prayer, that they might be blotted out of the book of the living; for all those must inevitably perish who are not found written or enrolled in the book of life. This is indeed an improper manner of speaking; but it is one well adapted to our limited capacity, the book of life being nothing else than the eternal purpose of God, by which he has predestinated his own people to salvation. God, it is certain, is absolutely immutable; and, further, we know that those who are adopted to the hope of salvation were written before the foundation of the world, (Ephesians 1:4;) but as God’s eternal purpose of election is incomprehensible, it is said, in accommodation to the imperfection of the human understanding, that those whom God openly, and by manifest signs, enrols among his people, are written. On the other hand, those whom God openly rejects and casts out of his Church are, for the same reason, said to be blotted out. As then David desires that the vengeance of God may be manifested, he very properly speaks of the reprobation of his enemies in language accommodated to our understanding; as if he had said, O God! reckon them not among the number or ranks of thy people, and let them not be gathered together with thy Church; but rather show by destroying them that thou hast rejected them; and although they occupy a place for a time among thy faithful ones, do thou at length cut them off, to make it manifest that they were aliens, though they were mingled with the members of thy family. Ezekiel uses language of similar import when he says,
“And mine hand shall be upon the prophets that see vanity, and that divine lies: they shall not be in the assembly of my people, neither shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel.”
That, however, continues true which is spoken by the Apostle John, (1 John 2:19,) that none who have been once really the children of God will ever finally fall away or be wholly cut off. (96) But as hypocrites presumptuously boast that they are the chief members of the Church, the Holy Spirit well expresses their rejection, by the figure of their being blotted out of the book of life. Moreover, it is to be observed that, in the second clause, all the elect of God are called the righteous; for, as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 4:3,
“This is the will of God, even our sanctification, that every one of us should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor: for God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3)
And the climax which the same Apostle uses in the 8th chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, at the 30th verse, is well known:
“Whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom
he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified,
them he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30)
(95) “This phrase,” observes Bishop Mant, “which is not unusual in Scripture, alludes to the custom of well ordered cities, which kept registers, containing all the names of the citizens. Out of these registers the names of apostates, fugitives, and criminals, were erased, as also those of the deceased: whence the expression ‘blotting,’ or ‘erasing names from the book of life.’”
29.As for me, I am poor and sorrowful. (97) From this verse we perceive more distinctly how David cast away from him the swelling and raging passion of those who, with ungovernable fury, pour forth imprecation and vengeance. He here, without doubt, offers himself to God with the sacrifice of a broken and humble heart, that by this meekness of spirit he may obtain favor with him. He therefore adds immediately after, Thy salvation shall exalt me. Those assuredly who are impelled to avenge themselves by their own ungovernable spirits are so far from being humbled, that they exalt themselves to a position to which they are not entitled. There is here a mutual relation stated between the sorrow with which he was oppressed, and the help of God by which he hoped to be lifted up. At the same time, he assures himself that the very thing which others considered as a ground for despair, would prove to him the cause of his salvation. This sentence might also be explained adversatively thus: Although I now mourn under the pressure of affliction, yet shall thy salvation, O Lord! exalt me. But for my part, I consider it certain that David brings forward his own affliction as a plea for obtaining mercy at the hand of God. Nor does he say simply that he will be raised up, but he expressly speaks of being exalted; and in this he alludes to fortresses which are set upon high places; for this is the proper signification of the Hebrew word
(97) Boothroyd reads, “humbled and afflicted!”
30.I will celebrate the name of God in a song. The Psalmist now elevated with joy, and sustained by the confident hope of deliverance, sings the triumphant strains of victory. This psalm, there is every reason to believe, was composed after he had been delivered from all apprehension of dangers; but there can be no doubt that the very topics with which it concludes were the matter of his meditation, when trembling with anxiety in the midst of his troubles; for he laid hold upon the grace of God by assured faith, although that grace was then hidden from him, and only the matter of his hope. God is here said to be magnified by our praises; not because any addition can be made to his dignity and glory, which are infinite, but because by our praises his name is exalted among men.
31.And this will please Jehovah more than a young bullock. The more effectually to strengthen himself for this exercise, David affirms that the thanksgiving which he is about to tender, will be to God a sacrifice of a sweet and an acceptable savor. There cannot be a more powerful incitement to thanksgiving than the certain conviction that this religious service is highly pleasing to God; even as the only recompense which he requires for all the benefits which he lavishes upon us is, that we honor and praise his name. This sets in a stronger light the inexcusableness of those who are so sluggish as, by their silence or forgetfulness, to suppress the praises of God. David neither omitted nor despised the outward sacrifices which the law enjoined; but he very justly preferred the spiritual service, which was the end of all the Levitical ceremonies. This subject I have treated at greater length on Psalms 50:14. By the way, the humility of David is worthy of being noticed, who, although he rose so high as to be a heavenly pattern, yet disdained not to humble himself for the common benefit of the Church, as if he had belonged to the common class of the people, that by the figures of the law he might learn the truth which has since been more clearly manifested in the gospel; namely, that the praises of God, in so far as they proceed from our mouths, are impure, until they are sanctified by Christ. But how gross and stupid is the superstition of those who would again bring into use the outward pomp of ceremonies which were abolished by the one sacrifice of Christ’s death, and think that God is truly pacified when they have wearied themselves with doing nothing! What does this amount to, but to obscure or cover, by the intervention of thick veils, this legitimate service of thanksgiving, which David had no hesitation in greatly preferring to the Mosaic ceremonies, although these were of divine appointment? By a young bullock, he means one of the most choice or select and the idea which he intends to convey is, that there was no sacrifice or victim, however valuable or precious, that he could offer, in which God would take so great delight as in thanksgiving.
32.The afflicted have seen it. He here shows that the blessed effects of his deliverance will extend to others as well as to himself, a point which he frequently insists on in the Psalms, as we have seen in Psalms 22:23, and in many other places. And his object in doing this is, partly to commend the goodness and grace of God to true believers, and partly that by this as an argument he may prevail with God to succor him. Besides, he does not mean that God’s people would rejoice at this spectacle merely on the ground of brotherly friendship, but because, in the deliverance of one man, a pledge would be given to others, affording them also assurance of salvation. For this very reason he terms them the afflicted. Whoever seek God, (says he,) although they may be subjected to afflictions, will nevertheless take courage from my example. The first and the second clauses of the verse must be read together; for a connected sense would not be preserved were we not to understand the meaning to be this, That the example of David would afford a ground of rejoicing to all the faithful servants of God when they should seek a remedy for their afflictions. He very properly conjoins the desire of seeking God with affliction; for all men do not so profit under the chastening hand of God as to seek salvation from him in the exercise of a sincere and ardent faith. In the concluding part of this verse there is a change of person:And your heart shall live. But this apostrophe is so far from rendering the sense obscure, that, on the contrary, it expresses it the more forcibly, as if a thing present were described. In addressing those who were so much under the pressure of affliction as to be laid prostrate like dead men, he exhibits to their view a kind of image of the resurrection; as if he had said, O ye who are dead! unto you new vigor shall be restored. It is not meant that faith perishes in the children of God, and remains entirely dead until it is quickened into life again by the example of the deliverance of others; but that the light which was quenched is rekindled, and thus, so to speak, recovers life anew. The Psalmist immediately after (verse 33) describes the means by which this will be brought about in the children of God, which is, that believing the deliverance of David to be a common token or pledge of the grace of God presented before them, they will confidently come to the conclusion, that God regards the needy, and does not despise the prisoners. We thus see that he considers what was done to one man, as a clear indication on the part of God that he will be ready to succor all who are in adversity. (99)
34.Let the heavens and the earth praise him. From this we may conclude with the greater certainty, that, as I have touched upon above, David in the whole of this psalm spake in the name of the whole Church; for he now transfers to the Church what he had spoken in particular concerning himself. In calling upon the elements, which are destitute of thought or understanding, to praise God, he speaks hyperbolically, and by this manner of expression, he would teach us that we are not animated with sufficient earnestness of heart in celebrating the praises of God, the infinitude of which overpasses the whole world, unless we rise above our own understandings. But what above all kindled this ardor in the heart of David was his concern for the preservation of the Church. Moreover, there is no doubt that by the Spirit of prophecy he comprehended the whole of that period during which God would have the kingdom and priesthood continued among the ancient people of Israel. Yet he begins at the restoration of a new state of things, which by his means was suddenly brought about upon the death of Saul, when a melancholy devastation threatened at once the utter destruction of the worship of God, and the desolation of the whole country. He says, in the first place, that Zion shall be saved, because God would defend the place where he had chosen to be called upon, and would not suffer the worship which he himself had appointed to be abolished. In the next place, from the ark of the covenant and the sanctuary, he represents the divine blessing as extending to the whole land; for religion was the foundation upon which the happiness of the people rested. He farther teaches, that this change to the better would not be of short continuance; but that the people would be always preserved safe through the constant and enduring protection of God: And they shall dwell there, and possess it by inheritance. He therefore intimates, that the promise which God had so often made in the law, That they should inherit that land forever, was truly confirmed by the commencement of his reign. He contrasts tranquil and settled abode with a mere temporary residence; as if he had said, Now that the sacred throne is erected, the time is come in which the children of Abraham will enjoy the rest which has been promised to them, without fear of being removed from it.
36.And the seed of his servants shall inherit it. In this verse he declares that the blessing now mentioned would extend through a continued succession of ages — that, the fathers would transmit to their children the possession which they had received, as from hand to hand, and the children to their children; and the enduring possession of all good things depends upon Christ, of whom David was a type. Yet the Psalmist at the same time briefly intimates, that such only as are the legitimate children of Abraham shall inherit the land: They who love his name shall dwell in it. It was needful to take away all grounds for self-gloriation from hypocrites, who, looking to and depending solely upon the circumstances connected with the origin of their race, foolishly boasted that the land belonged to them by right of inheritance, notwithstanding of their having apostatised from the faith of their ancestors. Although that land was given to the chosen people to be possessed until the advent of Christ, we should remember that it was a type of the heavenly inheritance, and that, therefore, what is here written concerning the protection of the Church, has received a more true and substantial fulfillment in our own day. There is no reason to fear that the building of the spiritual temple, in which the celestial power of God has been manifested, will ever fall into ruins.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Psalms 69". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19