Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 8: Psalms, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
David, being afflicted by the hand of God, acknowledges that he had provoked the Divine wrath by his sins, and, therefore, in order to obtain relief, he prays for forgiveness. At the same time, he regrets, that by being taken out of the world, he would be deprived of an opportunity of praising God. Then, having obtained confidence, he celebrates the grace of God, and directs his discourse to his enemies, who triumphed over his calamities.
To the chief musician on Neginoth, upon the eighth. A song of David.
The name of Song shows that David composed this psalm, in which he describes the passionate workings of his grief in the time of his troubles after he had obtained deliverance from the evils which he deplores. What the kind of chastisement was of which he speaks is uncertain. Those who restrict it to bodily disease do not adduce in support of their opinion any argument of sufficient weight. They insist on the word אמל, amal, which occurs in verse third, where he says, “I am weak,” which indeed signifies to be sick; but it is more probable that it is here used metaphorically. They allege that Hezekiah, after his recovery from sickness, sung in the same strains as are here recorded, concerning death. But in <19B601>Psalm 116, where no mention is made of bodily disease, the same complaint is uttered by the Psalmist in the name of the whole Church. We can, indeed, gather from these words that the life of David was in the utmost danger, but it may have been some other kind of affliction than bodily sickness under which he labored. We may, therefore, adopt this as the more certain interpretation, that he had been stricken by some severe calamity, or that some punishment had been inflicted upon him, which presented to his view on every side only the shadow of death. It ought also to be considered, that this psalm was not composed at the very time when he presented to God the prayers recorded in it; but that the prayers which he had meditated and uttered in the midst of his dangers and sadness were, after he had obtained respite, committed to writing. This explains why he joins the sorrow with which he certainly had struggled for a time with the joy which he afterwards experienced. With respect to the word eighth, as we have before said that נגינות, Neginoth, signifies a musical instrument, I do not know whether it would be correct to say, that it was a harp of eight strings. I am rather inclined to the opinion that it refers to the tune, and points out the particular kind of music to which the psalm was to be sung. 81 However, in a matter so obscure and of so little importance I leave every one at liberty to form his own conjecture.
1. Jehovah, rebuke me not in thine anger, and chastise me not in thine indignation.
The calamity which David now experienced had, perhaps, been inflicted by men, but he wisely considers that he has to deal with God. Those persons are very unsuitably exercised under their afflictions who do not immediately take a near and a steady view of their sins, in order thereby to produce the conviction that they have deserved the wrath of God. And yet we see how thoughtless and insensible almost all men are on this subject; for while they cry out that they are afflicted and miserable, scarcely one among a hundred looks to the hand which strikes. From whatever quarter, therefore, our afflictions come, let us learn to turn our thoughts instantly to God, and to acknowledge him as the Judge who summons us as guilty before his tribunal, since we, of our own accord, do not anticipate his judgment. But as men, when they are compelled to feel that God is angry with them, often indulge in complaints full of impiety, rather than find fault with themselves and their own sins, it is to be particularly noticed that David does not simply ascribe to God the afflictions under which he is now suffering, but acknowledges them to be the just recompense of his sins. He does not take God to task as if he had been an enemy, treating him with cruelty without any just cause; but yielding to him the right of rebuking and chastening, he desires and prays only that bounds may be set to the punishment inflicted on him. By this he declares God to be a just Judge in taking vengeance on the sins of men. 82 But as soon as he has confessed that he is justly chastised, he earnestly beseeches God not to deal with him in strict justice, or according to the utmost rigour of the law. He does not altogether refuse punishment, for that would be unreasonable; and to be without it, he judged would be more hurtful than beneficial to him: but what he is afraid of is the wrath of God, which threatens sinners with ruin and perdition. To anger and indignation David tacitly opposes fatherly and gentle chastisement, and this last he was willing to bear. We have a similar contrast in the words of Jeremiah, (Jer 10:24,) “O Lord,” says he, “correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger.” God is, indeed, said to be angry with sinners whenever he inflicts punishment upon them, but not in the proper and strict sense, inasmuch as he not only mingles with it some of the sweetness of his grace to mitigate their sorrow, but also shows himself favorable to them, in moderating their punishment, and in mercifully drawing back his hand. But, as we must necessarily be stricken with terror whenever he shows himself the avenger of wickedness, it is not without cause that David, according to the sense of the flesh, is afraid of his anger and indignation. The meaning therefore is this: I indeed confess, O Lord, that I deserve to be destroyed and brought to nought; but as I would be unable to endure the severity of thy wrath, deal not with me according to my deserts, but rather pardon my sins, by which I have provoked thine anger against me. As often, then, as we are pressed down by adversity, let us learn, from the example of David, to have recourse to this remedy, that we may be brought into a state of peace with God; for it is not to be expected that it can be well or prosperous with us if we are not interested in his favor. Whence it follows, that we shall never be without a load of evils, until he forgive us our sins.
2. Have mercy upon me, O Jehovah, for I am weak; heal me, O Jehovah, for my bones are afraid. 3. And my soul is exceedingly troubled; 83 and thou, O Jehovah, how long? 84
2. Have mercy upon me. As he earnestly calls upon God to be merciful to him, it is from this the more clearly manifest, that by the terms anger and indignation he did not mean cruelty or undue severity, but only such judgment as God executes upon the reprobate, whom he does not spare in mercy as he does his own children. If he had complained of being unjustly and too severely punished, he would now have only added something to this effect: Restrain thyself, that in punishing me thou mayest not exceed the measure of my offense. In betaking himself, therefore, to the mercy of God alone, he shows that he desires nothing else than not to be dealt with according to strict justice, or as he deserved. In order to induce God to exercise his forgiving mercy towards him, he declares that he is ready to fail: Have mercy upon me, O Jehovah, for I am weak As I have said before, he calls himself weak, not because he was sick, but because he was cast down and broken by what had now befallen him. And as we know that the design of God in inflicting punishment upon us, is to humble us; so, whenever we are subdued under his rod, the gate is opened for his mercy to come to us. Besides, since it is his peculiar office to heal the diseased to raise up the fallen, to support the weak, and, finally, to give life to the dead; this, of itself, is a sufficient reason why we should seek his favor, that we are sinking under our afflictions.
After David has protested that he placed his hope of salvation in the mercy of God alone, and has sorrowfully set forth how much he is abased, he subjoins the effect which this had in impairing his bodily health, and prays for the restoration of this blessing: Heal me, O Jehovah And this is the order which we must observe, that we may know that all the blessings which we ask from God flow from the fountain of his free goodness, and that we are then, and then only, delivered from calamities and chastisements, 85 when he has had mercy upon us. — For my bones are afraid This confirms what I have just now observed, namely, that, from the very grievousness of his afflictions, he entertained the hope of some relief; for God, the more he sees the wretched oppressed and almost overwhelmed, is just so much the more ready to succor them. He attributes fear to his bones, not because they are endued with feeling, but because the vehemence of his grief was such that it affected his whole body. He does not speak of his flesh, which is the more tender and susceptible part of the corporeal system, but he mentions his bones, thereby intimating that the strongest parts of his frame were made to tremble for fear. He next assigns the cause of this by saying, And my soul is greatly afraid. The connective particle and, in my judgment, has here the meaning of the causal particle for, as if he had said, so severe and violent is the inward anguish of my heart, that it affects and impairs the strength of every part of my body. I do not approve of the opinion which here takes soul for life, nor does it suit the scope of the passage.
3. And thou, O Jehovah, how long? This elliptical form of expression serves to express more strongly the vehemence of grief, which not only holds the minds of men bound up, but likewise their tongues, breaking and cutting short their speech in the middle of the sentence. The meaning, however, in this abrupt expression is doubtful. Some, to complete the sentence, supply the words, Wilt thou afflict me, or continue to chasten me? Others read, How long wilt thou delay thy mercy? But what is stated in the next verse shows that this second sense is the more probable, for he there prays to the Lord to look upon him with an eye of favor and compassion. He, therefore, complains that God has now forsaken him, or has no regard to him, just as God seems to be far of from us whenever his assistance or grace does not actually manifest itself in our behalf. God, in his compassion towards us, permits us to pray to him to make haste to succor us; but when we have freely complained of his long delay, that our prayers or sorrow, on this account, may not pass beyond bounds we must submit our case entirely to his will, and not wish him to make greater haste than shall seem good to him.
4. Return, O Lord, deliver my soul; save me for thy mercy’s sake. 5. For in death there is no remembrance of thee; and in the grave who shall acknowledge thee? 86
4. Return, O Lord. In the preceding verses the Psalmist bewailed the absence of God, and now he earnestly requests the tokens of his presence, for our happiness consists in this, that we are the objects of the Divine regard, but we think he is alienated front us, if he does not give us some substantial evidence of his care for us. That David was at this time in the utmost peril, we gather from these words, in which he prays both for the deliverance of his soul, as it were, from the jaws of death, and for his restoration to a state of safety. Yet no mention is made of any bodily disease, and, therefore, I give no judgment with respect to the kind of his affliction. David, again, confirms what he had touched upon in the second verse concerning the mercy of God, namely, that this is the only quarter from which he hopes for deliverance: Save me for thy mercy’s sake Men will never find a remedy for their miseries until, forgetting their own merits, by trusting to which they only deceive themselves, they have learned to betake themselves to the free mercy of God.
5. For in death there is no remembrance of thee. After God has bestowed all things freely upon us, he requires nothing in return but a grateful remembrance of his benefits. To this gratitude reference is made when David says, that there will be no remembrance of God in death, nor any celebration of his praise in the grave His meaning is, that if, by the grace of God, he shall be delivered from death, he will be grateful for it, and keep it in remembrance. And he laments, that if he should be removed out of the world, he would be deprived of the power and opportunity of manifesting his gratitude, since in that case he would no longer mingle in the society of men, there to commend or celebrate the name of God. From this passage some conclude, that the dead have no feeling, and that it is wholly extinct in them; but this is a rash and unwarranted inference, for nothing is here treated of but the mutual celebration of the grace of God, in which men engage while they continue in the land of the living. We know that we are placed on the earth to praise God with one mind and one mouth, and that this is the end of our life. Death, it is true, puts an end to such praises; but it does not follow from this, that the souls of the faithful, when divested of their bodies, are deprived of understanding, or touched with no affection towards God. It is also to be considered, that, on the present occasion, David dreaded the judgment of God if death should befall him, and this made him dumb as to singing the praises of God. It is only the goodness of God sensibly experienced by us which opens our mouth to celebrate his praise; and whenever, therefore, joy and gladness are taken away, praises also must cease. It is not then wonderful if the wrath of God, which overwhelms us with the fear of eternal destruction, is said to extinguish in us the praises of God.
From this passage, we are furnished with the solution of another question, why David so greatly dreaded death, as if there had been nothing to hope for beyond this world. Learned men reckon up three causes why the fathers under the law were so much kept in bondage by the fear of death. The first is, because the grace of God, not being then made manifest by the coming of Christ, the promises, which were obscure, gave them only a slight acquaintance with the life to come. The second is, because the present life, in which God deals with us as a Father, is of itself desirable. And the third, because they were afraid lest, after their decease, some change to the worse might take place in religion. But to me these reasons do not appear to be sufficiently solid. David’s mind was not always occupied by the fear he now felt; and when he came to die, being full of days and weary of this life, he calmly yielded up his soul into the bosom of God. The second reason is equally applicable to us at the present day, as it was to the ancient fathers, inasmuch as God’s fatherly love shines forth towards us also even in this life, and with much more illustrious proofs than under the former dispensation. But, as I have just observed, I consider this complaint of David as including something different, namely, that feeling the hand of God to be against him, and knowing his hatred of sin, 87 he is overwhelmed with fear and involved in the deepest distress. The same may also be said of Hezekiah, inasmuch as he did not simply pray for deliverance from death, but from the wrath of God, which he felt to be very awful, (Isa 38:3.)
6. I have become wearied in my groaning; I make my bed to swim 88 every night; I water my couch with my tears. 7. Mine eye hath waxed dim for vexation; it hath waxed old among my persecutors.
These forms of expression are hyperbolical, but it must not be imagined that David, after the manner of poets, exaggerates his sorrow; 89 but he declares truly and simply how severe and bitter it had been. It should always be kept in mind, that his affliction did not proceed so much from his having been severely wounded with bodily distress; but regarding God as greatly displeased with him, he saw, as it were, hell open to receive him; and the mental distress which this produces exceeds all other sorrows. Indeed, the more sincerely a man is devoted to God, he is just so much the more severely disquieted by the sense of his wrath; and hence it is that holy persons, who were otherwise endued with uncommon fortitude, have showed in this respect the greatest softness and want of resolution. And nothing prevents us at this day from experiencing in ourselves what David describes concerning himself but the stupidity of our flesh. Those who have experienced, even in a moderate degree, what it is to contend with the fear of eternal death, will be satisfied that there is nothing extravagant in these words. Let us, therefore, know that here David is represented to us as being afflicted with the terrors of his conscience, 90 and feeling within him torment of no ordinary kind, but such as made him almost faint away, and lie as if dead. With respect to the words, he says, Mine eye hath waxed dim; for grief of mind easily makes its way to the eyes, and from them very distinctly shows itself. As the word עתק athak, which I have translated it hath waxed old, sometimes signifies to depart from one’s place, some expound it, that the goodness of his eyesight was lost, and his sight, as it were, had vanished. Others understand by it that his eyes were hidden by the swelling which proceeds from weeping. The first opinion, however, according to which David complains of his eyes failing him, as it were, through old age, appears to me the more simple. As to what he adds, every night, we learn from it that he was almost wholly wasted away with protracted sorrow, and yet all the while never ceased from praying to God.
8. Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping. 9. The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord will receive 91 my prayer. 10. Let all mine enemies be put to shame and greatly confounded; let them turn back, and be ashamed suddenly. 92
After David has disburdened his griefs and troubles into the bosom of God, he now, as it were, assumes a new character. And, without doubt, he had been afflicted with long-continued despondency of spirit before he could recover himself, and attain to such a degree of assurance as he here displays; 93 for we have already seen that he had spent many nights in continual weeping. Now, the more he had been distressed and wearied by the long delay of his deliverance, with so much the more alacrity does he stir up himself to sing of victory. Directing his discourse against his adversaries, he represents it as not the least part of his temptations that ungodly men triumphed over him, and derided him as lost, and in a hopeless condition; for we know with what insolence their pride and cruelty magnify themselves against the children of God, when they see them oppressed under the cross. And to this Satan moves them, in order to drive the faithful to despair, when they see their hope made the subject of mockery. This passage teaches us, that the grace of God is the only light of life to the godly; and that, as soon as He has manifested some token of his anger, they are not only greatly afraid, but also, as it were, plunged into the darkness of death; while, on the other hand, as soon as they discover anew that God is merciful to them, they are immediately restored to life. David, it is to be noticed, repeats three times that his prayers were heard, by which he testifies that he ascribes his deliverance to God, and confirms himself in this confidence, that he had not betaken himself to God in vain. And if we would receive any fruit from our prayers, we must believe that God’s ears have not been shut against them. By the word weeping, 94 he not only indicates vehemence and earnestness, but also intimates that he had been wholly occupied in mourning and sorrowful lamentations. The confidence and security which David takes to himself from the favor of God ought also to be noticed. From this, we are taught that there is nothing in the whole world, whatever it may be, and whatever opposition it may make to us, 95 which we may not despise, if we are fully persuaded of our being beloved by God; and by this also we understand what his fatherly love can do for us. By the adverb suddenly, he signifies, that when there is apparently no means of delivering the faithful from affliction, and when all seems desperate or hopeless, then they are delivered by the power of God contrary to all expectation. When God suddenly changes men’s afflicted condition into one of joy and happiness, he thereby manifests more illustriously his power, and makes it appear the more wonderful.
Sheminith, or the eighth, “is thought to be the shrillest or loftiest note, as Alomoth is the lowest; of which see 1 Chr. 15:20, 21. But all this is only conjecture; and the Jews themselves have no certain knowledge of their ancient music, and of the signification of the terms belonging to it.” — Poole’s Annotations.
“En faisant vengence des forfaits des hommes.” — Fr.
Or greatly terrified. This is a very correct rendering of the original words נבהלה מאד; nibhalah meod: and they are very like those uttered by the Savior in his agony, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.”
“Mais toy, Seigneur, jusques a quand m’affligeras-tu?” — Fr. “But thou, O Lord, how long wilt thou afflict me?”
“Des maux et chastiemens.” — Fr.
“Car il n’est fait nulle mention de toy en la mort: qui est-ce qui to louera au sepulcher?” — Fr. “For there is no mention made of thee in death; and who shall praise thee in the grave?”
“Ascavoir que sentant la main de Dieu contraire, veu qu’il l’advertissoit de sa vengence contre le peche.” — Fr.
“Je baigne ma couche. — Fr. “I soak my couch.” “Ou, je fay nager.” — Fr. marg. “or, I make to swim.”
“II ne taut pas penser toutesfois que David amplifie sa tristesse a la facon des Poetes.” — Fr.
“Des frayeurs de la morte.” — Fr. “With the terrors of death.”
“A receu.” — Fr. “Hath received.” This is the rendering which is adopted in all the ancient versions, although the Hebrew verb is in the future tense.
“En un moment.” — Fr. “In a moment.”
“Avant que pouvoir se relever et venir a sentir telle asseurance qu’il monstre yci.” — Fr.
“The voice of my weeping, my loud weeping.” says Hengstenberg, and then he adds, quoting from Roberts’ Orient. Illustr. of the Sacred Scrip., “Silent grief is not much known in the East. Hence, when the people speak of lamentation, they say, Have I not heard the voice of his mourning?”
“Qu’il n’y a rien en tout le monde qui se dresse contre nous.” — Fr.