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A Psalm of David
I will sing of mercy and judgment:
Unto thee, O Lord, will I sing.
2 I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way.
O when wilt thou come unto me?
I will walk within my house
With a perfect heart.
3 I will set no wicked thing
Before mine eyes:
I hate the work of them that turn aside;
It shall not cleave to me.
4 A froward heart shall depart from me:
I will not know a wicked person.
5 Whoso privily slandereth his neighbour,
Him will I cut off:
Him that hath a high look and a proud heart
Will not I suffer.
6 Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land,
That they may dwell with me;
He that walketh in a perfect way,
He shall serve me.
7 He that worketh deceit
Shall not dwell within my house:
He that telleth lies shall not tarry
In my sight.
8 I will early destroy
All the wicked of the land;
That I may cut off all wicked doers
From the city of the Lord.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
Contents and Composition.—This Psalm may quite probably owe its position to its resemblance to Psalms 99:4. There is nothing which should prevent us from assigning the composition to David. For the vow in Psalms 101:1 suggests not merely a pious but a royal singer, while, more definitely still, the form which it finally assumes in Psalms 101:8 argues a theocratic king. Accordingly, after he details his essential character by recording his resolves to act uprightly, first in personal conduct and domestic life (Psalms 101:2), then with reference to his associates (Psalms 101:3-5), and finally in his obligation to keep watch over his subjects, servants, and the inmates of his house (Psalms 101:6-7), Psalms 101:8 places the exercise of the punitive power vested in rulers in special relation to the city of God. As the city of Elohim (Psalms 46:5), or the city of Jehovah Zebaoth (Psalms 48:9), or the city of our God (Psalms 48:2), that city must not only have impressed upon it the character of holiness in its public worship, but must also exhibit that character in its moral results (Isaiah 35:8; Isaiah 52:1; Nahum 2:1). David vows that he will exercise his royal power in the service of God in order to realize this end. Luther has entitled this psalm, the mirror of rulers. It is related, also, that Duke Ernest the Pious sent it on one occasion to an unfaithful minister, and that, when any official was guilty of misconduct, it was the custom to say: “he will certainly soon have to read the Prince’s Psalm.” The question in Psalms 101:2 b. can hardly aid us in our efforts to arrive at a closer approximation to the time of composition (see below). The numerous points of contact with the Proverbs of Solomon do not necessarily argue a dependence upon them.
[Perowne, after indicating the contents of the Psalm, continues: “All this falls in admirably with the first part of David’s reign, and the words are just what we might expect from one who came to the throne with a heart so true to his God.” Further on, he thus presents the situation of the Psalmist, mainly translating from Ewald: “Zion was already David’s royal seat, and the tabernacle of Jehovah was there; but the new state had yet to be organized, and the great officers of state and of the household to be chosen, men upon whose character so much always depends, and especially in despotic monarchies, like those of the ancient world. David himself was standing at the threshold of the most critical period of his life, and, fully aware of the greatness of his responsibilities, did not as yet feel himself equal to the task which devolved upon him, the burden which he was henceforth to bear. Still in the first period of his reign in Jerusalem, in the flush of victory, in the full splendor of his newly-acquired dominion over the whole of Israel, David is only the more earnest in praising Jehovah and calling to mind His attributes, in striving to purify his own heart, and to form wise measures for the conduct of a strong and righteous rule, and in the resolution to keep far from him all that would bring a reproach upon himself and a stain upon his court. Nothing shows us more clearly the true nobleness of David’s soul than this short psalm.”—J. F. M.].
Psalms 101:1. Mercy and justice. [E. V. Mercy and judgment], cannot be taken here as a summary of a ruler’s virtues (Aben Ezra, Kimchi, Calvin and others), since it is not the custom of the Old Testament writers to praise human excellencies (Geier). Besides, the harp is immediately described as about to be sounded to the praise of Jehovah. God, therefore, (Judges 5:3), and what God is (Psalms 89:2; Psalms 99:5), are to be praised. But what follows does not celebrate divine attributes, deeds, and blessings, for which God is praised, and thanksgiving, by imitation of them, is promised (Geier, J. H. Michaelis and others), or by the contemplation of which the singer is moved to good resolutions (De Wette). Consequently Psalms 101:1 throughout cannot be regarded as the Theme of the psalm, (most). Nor is there ground afforded for the view which regards it as a free adaptation of a current form of introduction (Hupfeld), or for that which would combine the whole psalm with the two following into one trilogy (Hengst.) The verse contains a vow, parallel throughout to the following resolves, which refer collectively to a course of moral conduct, to the honor and well-pleasing of Jehovah. It is a vow relating to the exercise of the poetic gift, and is expressed in such a manner, as to afford a strong testimony to a Davidic authorship.
Psalms 101:2. When wilt thou come unto me? This clause sounds strangely, and has a form which differs from any member of the other verses of the Psalm. But it need not therefore be pronounced spurious (Olshausen). We might be inclined to assimilate it to the other members of its verse, by taking מָתַי not as an interrogative, but as a conjunction=as often, as soon as, and תָּבוֹא as 3. fem. referring to דֶּרֶךְ or תָּמָים (Hupf.). But what is then meant by: “as often as uprightness shall come to me?” Does David promise to mark the way of uprightness, as soon as it shall enter his house in the person of an upright man? Or does it mean: to mark how an upright man walk in order to follow in his steps? Or: to place himself in a right relation to it, in order not to overstep or contract its limits? Or, does the way signify not a walk but the course of events, as something which comes to pass (Hitzig), and does David promise to take a concern in that as judge? Whatever turn we may give to the sentence, we have to encounter either an unsound sense or an unsuitable form. And it is no better, if the verb be taken, as is usually done, in the 2 masc. but the interrogative changed into a conjunction. For the sentence: when, as often, or, as soon as thou comest to me, can only be understood of a visit of God with the design of trying,Psalms 17:3, (Rosenmüller), and this is unsuitable from any point of view. Besides, מָתַיoccurs always as an interrogative, except, perhaps, in the disputed passage, Proverbs 23:35. But the form of the question frequently expresses, as is well known, the longings of desire, the wish for speedy fulfilment, and is like the utterance of a sigh. The position of the sentence then leads us to prefer the 2 masc. to the 3 fem.; and a suitable sense is gained, if we understand by the coming of God, not specially the Holy Spirit.(Kimchi), but. the coming of God with His help, in order to effect the upright walk (most). There is nothing in the text to suggest a special reference to the ark of the covenant which David, terrified by the fate of Uzzah, left at one time at the house of Obed Edom. This is discovered in a supposed allusion to his question at that time: how should the ark of Jehovah come to me? (Venema, Dathe, Muntinghe, De Wette, De litzsch). This would be foreign to the course of thought, and is opposed rather than recommended by the appellation: city of Jehovah, applied in Psalms 101:8 to Jerusalem. For the supposition that the Psalm was composed at a later period of David’s life (Schegg), when Jehovah had already fixed His dwelling at Jerusalem, does not agree with the sigh of longing, in an altered frame of mind, which includes a prayer for the coming of a blessing not yet vouchsafed. An anticipatory use of the name Jehovah (Del.) is improbable, especially as the blessing which the ark diffused around it (2 Samuel 6:11 f.), and which influenced David to remove it to Jerusalem, was of an altogether different character from that which is here implored. [The reference to the ark as being connected with the composition of the Psalm was, among English expositors, first suggested by Hammond; Perowne, among the recent ones, defends it. The others favor the usual reference to David’s early experience as king of the whole of Israel. Perowne, moreover, while giving the usual interpretation to the clause just expounded, considers it as an allusion to the promise in Exodus 20:24.—J. F. M.].
Psalms 101:3 ff. Set before my eyes,etc —Literally: opposite to my eyes, as opposed to pleased contemplation, or to striving after an object, following a pattern or example. [The third member of the verse should be rendered: I hate the committing of transgressions.—J. F. M.]. A froward heart, Psalms 101:4, would better suit the context, if referred to the Psalmist’s own heart, which is expelled as an evil guest, than if understood metonymically as applying to false men. So, in the following line, the refusal to know wickedness, (Psalms 1:6; Psalms 35:11), is opposed to acknowledging, cherishing, caring for it (Psalms 30:5). Lofty eyes [Psalms 101:5], denote haughtiness, a broad heart, self-inflated arrogance (Proverbs 21:4; Proverbs 28:25). I will not suffer is literally: I cannot, am incapable, namely, of suffering. Accordingly לָשֵׂאת is added in Jeremiah 44:22; Proverbs 30:21. In Psalms 101:8 the designation of time may allude to the sessions of justice held in the morning, Jeremiah 21:12; 2 Samuel 15:2. It may also, however be regarded as equivalent to daily (Psalms 73:14).
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. Mercy and justice do not exclude, but mutually condition, one another, for the salvation of the world, as that salvation has been brought to the knowledge of the church in the dealings of God. They are therefore entitled to be the subject of her songs of praise. But the people of God must not only celebrate in their songs this revelation of the divine glory, they must themselves also engage in its service (Micah 6:8; Matthew 23:23). Thus not only will a special gift of God be consecrated, but the whole man will be sanctified in Him, and hereby be qualified for his special work as one blessed of the Lord.
2. It is necessary that every man should be conscious, and continue mindful, of this his position, and the part he has to perform, and that, conformably to the whole circle of his duties, he should bring home to himself his responsibility in individual cases, and, according to the special relations of his position in life and his calling, that he should try his own conduct conscientiously, should make the corresponding resolves, and should long and sigh after and implore, for the fulfilment of his vow, the coming of the Lord, in order to obtain the help which he must feel to be indispensable.
3. The importance of this obligation is not at all lessened by the greatness of endowments be-stowed, or with the exaltation of the office held, or with the ripeness of the experience of life; it is rather enhanced by them. Kings, princes, and rulers, therefore, have the greatest responsibilities, especially as most trials are assigned and the greatest temptations presented to them. They have not only to guard their own hearts, but also to watch over the country, not only to walk themselves in innocence (1 Kings 3:14; Psalms 78:72; Proverbs 20:7), but to rule the country and the people in mercy and justice, and, in conformity therewith, to regulate their lives in private and public, to appoint their ministers, to choose their associates, to fashion their whole conduct to friend and foe, and to unite a conscientious administration of justice in the punishment of evil doers with consideration for the faithful in the land. “We learn from this how pleasing to God is that severity, which does not exceed a just moderation, and, on the other hand, how displeasing to Him is that cruel indulgence, which gives the rein to the wicked; for there is no greater inducement to sin than impunity.” (Calvin).
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
God’ mercy and justice are worthy of the attention, admiration, and raise of men, but still more so, of their love, study, and imitation.—It is well for us, if not only our song, but also our life is a psalm to the praise of God.—Men must begin with themselves and in their own homes, if they would observe the order established by God.—He who has to command others must not only walk blamelessly himself, but also be surrounded with servants who follow diligently a like course.—He who is not true to God will not be so to men; let us therefore take heed with whom we associate, and set God’s mercy and justice before everything else.—He who has been endowed with talents, or intrusted with power, must exercise them, but do so according to God’s order and with His help; therefore the wisest must learn from His word, and the mightiest seek His aid.—He who would rule, must, before everything else, become himself a servant of God.—Without conversion of the heart there is no improvement of life; and without both of these there is no pleasing God.-—A king by God’s mercy as a ruler according to God’s justice.
Starke: It is not well that there should be mercy alone, without regard to the distinction of good and bad, and when there is only indignation and punishment, then follows tyranny. Justice must go hand in hand with mercy.—There are three capital virtues in a ruler: prudence in matters of faith, uprightness in holding judgment, and faithfulness in general towards the whole country.—Those who are in high places should choose pious and upright servants; if they do not, they involve themselves in the greatest guilt before God, and lay upon the nation a heavy burden under which it sighs.—Frisch: Good resolves and good performances are both the consequences of God’s mercy.—To him alone, then, the honor and the praise belong.—Renschel: The ruler’s mirror; it exhibits the promise of David, (1) that he would rightly execute his public duties, (2) that he would set a good example to his subjects, (3) that he would purify his court and dismiss the wicked, (4) that he desired to do the same in the whole land and in the Church.—Richter (Hausbibel): The reign of a king over Israel was to be a representation and type of the reign of Jehovah, as every Christian king should be a representative and copy of Christ. In these relations, also, the cross points to the crown.—Diedrich: God’s mercy and righteousness are reflected in believers. He alone who delights in justice and love, can take pleasure in the mercy and righteousness of God.—Taube: As the heart should be the Lord’s, so also should the house, and as the house, so also the nation.
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Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 101". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13