Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 8: Psalms, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
David, after having recounted the former victories which he had gained, and exalted in lofty strains the grace and power of God in their happy issue, now again, when he sees new enemies and dangers rising up, implores the protection of the same God by whom he had before been delivered, and beseeches him to overthrow the pride of his enemies.
To the chief musician Almuth Laben. A Psalm of David.
This inscription is variously explained. Some translate it, Upon the death of Laben, and are of opinion that he was one of the chief captains of David’s enemies. Others are inclined to think it was rather a fictitious name, and that Goliath is the person spoken of in this psalm. According to others, it was a musical instrument. But to me it seems a more correct, or, at least, (as I am accustomed to speak when the matter is obscure, 155 a more probable opinion, that it was the beginning of some well-known song, to the tune of which the psalm was composed. The disputes of interpreters as to what victory David here celebrates, in my judgment, are unnecessary, and serve no good purpose. In the first place, their opinion that it is a song of victory, in which David simply gives thanks to God, is confuted, and shown to be erroneous from the scope of the psalm. The greater part is indeed occupied in singing the praises of God, but the whole ought to be considered as a prayer; in which, for the purpose of elevating his mind to confidence in God, he calls to his remembrance, according to his usual manner, by what wonderful displays of the power of God he had formerly been delivered from the violence and power of his enemies. It is therefore a mistake to limit to one victory this thanksgiving, in which he intended to comprehend many deliverances.
1. I will praise Jehovah with my whole heart; I will tell of thy marvellous works. 2. I will rejoice and exult 156 in thee; yea, I will celebrate in songs thy name, O thou Most High. 3. When my enemies are turned back, they fall down, and are put to flight 157 at thy presence.
1. I will praise the Lord. David begins the psalm in this way, to induce God to succor him in the calamities with which he was now afflicted. As God continues his favor towards his own people without intermission, all the good he has hitherto done to us should serve to inspire us with confidence and hope, that he will be gracious and merciful to us in the time to come. 158 There is, indeed, in these words a profession of gratitude for the favors which he has received from God; 159 but, in remembering his past mercies, he encourages himself to expect succor and aid in future emergencies; and by this means he opens the gate of prayer. The whole heart is taken for an upright or sincere heart, which is opposed to a double heart. Thus he distinguishes himself not only from gross hypocrites, who praise God only with their lips outwardly, without having their hearts in any way affected, but also acknowledges that whatever he had hitherto done which was commendable, proceeded entirely from the pure grace of God. Even irreligious men, I admit, when they have obtained some memorable victory, are ashamed to defraud God of the praise which is due to him; but we see that as soon as they have uttered a single expression in acknowledgement of the assistance God has afforded them, they immediately begin to boast loudly, and to sing triumphs in honor of their own valor, as if they were under no obligations whatever to God. In short, it is a piece of pure mockery when they profess that their exploits have been done by the help of God; for, after having made oblation to Him, they sacrifice to their own counsels, skill, courage, and resources. Observe how the prophet Habakkuk, under the person of one presumptuous king, wisely reproves the ambition which is common to all, (Hab 1:16.) Yea, we see that the famous generals of antiquity, who, upon returning victorious from some battle, desired public and solemn thanksgivings 160 to be decreed in their name to the gods, thought of nothing less than of doing honor to their false deities; but only abused their names under a false pretense, in order thereby to obtain an opportunity of indulging in vain boasting, that their own superior prowess might be acknowledged. 161 David, therefore, with good reason, affirms that he is unlike the children of this world, whose hypocrisy or fraud is discovered by the wicked and dishonest distribution which they make between God and themselves, 162 arrogating to themselves the greater part of the praise which they pretended to ascribe to God. He praised God with his whole heart, which they did not; for certainly it is not praising God with the whole heart when a mortal man dares to appropriate the smallest portion of the glory which God claims for himself. God cannot bear with seeing his glory appropriated by the creature in even the smallest degree, so intolerable to him is the sacrilegious arrogance of those who by praising themselves, obscure his glory as far as they can.
I will tell of all thy marvellous works. Here David confirms what I have already said, that he does not treat in this psalm of one victory or one deliverance only; for he proposes to himself in general all the miracles which God had wrought in his behalf, as subjects of meditation. He applies the term marvellous not to all the benefits which he had received from God, but to those more signal and memorable deliverances in which was exhibited a bright and striking manifestation of the divine power. God would have us to acknowledge him as the author of all our blessings; but on some of his gifts he has engraven more evident marks in order the more effectually to awaken our senses, which are otherwise as if asleep or dead. David’s language, therefore, is an acknowledgement that he was preserved of God, not by ordinary means, but by the special power of God, which was conspicuously displayed in this matter; inasmuch as he had stretched forth his hand in a miraculous manner, and above the common and usual way.
2. I will rejoice and exult in thee. Observe how the faithful praise God sincerely and without hypocrisy, when they do not rest on themselves for happiness, and are not intoxicated with foolish and carnal presumption, but rejoice in God alone; which is nothing else than to seek the matter of their joy from the favor of God, and from no other source, since in it perfect happiness consists. I will rejoice in thee We ought to consider how great is the difference and opposition between the character of the joy which men endeavor to find in themselves, and the character of the joy which they seek in God. David, the more forcibly to express how he renounces every thing which may keep hold of or occupy him with vain delight, adds the word exult, by which he means that he finds in God a full and an overflowing abundance of joy, so that he is not under the necessity of seeking even the smallest drop in any other quarter. Moreover, it is of importance to remember what I have previously observed, that David sets before himself the testimonies of the divine goodness which he had formerly experienced, in order to encourage himself with the more alacrity to lay open his heart 163 to God, and to present his prayers before him. He who begins his prayer by affirming that God is the great source and object of his joy, fortifies himself before-hand with the strongest confidence, in presenting his supplications to the hearer of prayer.
3. While my enemies are turned back. In these words he assigns the reason why he undertakes to sing the praises of God, namely, because he acknowledges that his frequent victories had been achieved, not by his own power, nor by the power of his soldiers, but by the free favor of God. In the first part of the verse he narrates historically how his enemies were discomfited or put to flight; and then he adds, what faith alone could enable him to say, that this did not take place by the power of man or by chance, but because God fought for him, 164 and stood against them in the battle. He says, they fall, 165 and are put to flight At Thy Presence. David therefore acted wisely, when, upon seeing his enemies turn their backs, he lifted up the eyes of his mind to God, in order to perceive that victory flowed to him from no other source than from the secret and incomprehensible aid of God. And, doubtless, it is He only who guides the simple by the spirit of wisdom, while he inflicts madness on the crafty, and strikes them with amazement, — who inspires with courage the faint and timid, while he causes the boldest to tremble with fear, — who restores to the feeble their strength, while he reduces the strong to weakness, — who upholds the fainthearted by his power, while he makes the sword to fall from the hands of the valiant; - and, finally, who brings the battle to a prosperous or disastrous issue, just as he pleases. When, therefore, we see our enemies overthrown, we must beware of limiting our view to what is visible to the eye of sense, like ungodly men, who, while they see with their bodily eyes, are yet blind; but let us instantly call to our remembrance this truth, that when our enemies turn back, they are put to flight by the presence of the Lord. 166 The verbs, fall and put to flight, in the Hebrew, are in the future tense, but I have translated them in the present, because David anew presents to his own view the goodness of God which had formerly been manifested towards him.
4. For thou hast maintained my right and my cause; thou sittest upon the throne a righteous judge. 167 5. Thou hast rebuked the nations; thou hast destroyed the wicked; thou hast blotted out their name for ever and ever.
The Psalmist proceeds a step farther in the 4th verse, declaring that God stretched forth his hand to give him succor, because he was unrighteously afflicted by his enemies. And surely if we desire to be favored with the assistance of God, we ought to see to it that we fight under his standard. David, therefore, calls him a judge of righteousness, or, which is the same thing, a righteous judge; as if he had said, God has acted towards me according to his ordinary manner and constant principle of acting, for it is his usual way to undertake the defense of good causes. I am more inclined to render the words, Thou sittest a just judge, than to render them, O just judge, thou sittest, 168 because the form of expression, according to the first reading, is more emphatic. The import of it is this: God at length has assumed the character of judge, and is gone up into his judgment-seat to execute the office of judge. On this account he glories in having law and right on his side, and declares that God was the maintainer of his right and cause. What follows in the next verse, Thou hast destroyed [or discomfited,] the wicked, belongs also to the same subject. When he beholds his enemies overthrown, he does not rejoice in their destruction, considered simply in itself; but in condemning them on account of their unrighteousness, he says that they have received the punishment which they deserved. Under the name of nations he means, that it was not a small number of ungodly persons who were destroyed, but great armies, yea, even all who had risen up against him from different quarters. And the goodness of God shines forth the brighter in this, that, on account of the favor which he bare to one of his servants, he spared not even whole nations. When he says, Thou hast blotted out their name for ever, it may be understood as meaning, that they were destroyed without any hope of ever being able to rise again, and devoted to everlasting shame. We could not otherwise discern how God buries the name of the ungodly with themselves, did we not hear him declare that the memory of the righteous shall be for ever blessed, (Pr 10:7.)
6. O thou enemy, desolations are come to an end for ever; and thou hast destroyed [or demolished 169 ] cities; their memory has perished with them. 7. And Jehovah sitteth for ever, he hath prepared his throne for judgment. 8. And he shall judge the world in righteousness, he shall judge the nations in uprightness.
6. O thou enemy, desolations are come to an end for ever. This sixth verse is explained in different ways. Some read it interrogatively, viewing the letter ה, as a mark of interrogation, as if David, addressing his discourse to his enemies, asked whether they had completed their work of devastation, even as they had resolved to destroy every thing; for the verb תמם, tamam, signifies sometimes to complete, and sometimes to put an end to any thing. And if we here take it in this sense, David, in the language of sarcasm or irony, rebukes the foolish confidence of his enemies. Others, reading the verse without any interrogation, make the irony still more evident, and think that David describes, in these three verses, a twofold state of matters; that, in the first place, (verse 6,) he introduces his enemies persecuting him with savage violence, and persevering with determined obstinacy in their cruelty, so that it seemed to be their fixed purpose never to desist until the kingdom of David should be utterly destroyed; and that, in the second place, (verses 7, 8) he represents God as seated on his judgment-seat, directly over against them, to repress their outrageous attempts. If this sense is admitted, the copulative, in the beginning of the seventh verse, which we have translated and, must be rendered by the adversative particle but, in this way: Thou, O enemy, didst seek after nothing except slaughter and the destruction of cities; but, at length, God has shown that he sits in heaven on his throne as judge, to put into proper order the things which are in confusion on the earth. According to others, David gives thanks to God, because, when the ungodly were fully determined to spread universal ruin around them, he put an end to their devastations. Others understand the words in a more restricted sense, as meaning that the desolations of the ungodly were completed, because God, in his just judgment, had made to fall upon their own heads the calamities and ruin which they had devised against David. According to others, David, in the 6th verse, complains that God had, for a long time, silently suffered the miserable devastation of his people, so that the ungodly, being left unchecked, wasted and destroyed all things according to their pleasure; and in the seventh verse, they think he subjoins for his consolation that God, notwithstanding, presides over human affairs. I have no objection to the view, that there is first described ironically how dreadful the power of the enemy was, when they put forth their highest efforts; and next, that there is set in opposition to it the judgment of God, which suddenly brought their proceedings to an abrupt termination, contrary to their expectation. They anticipated no such issue; for we know that the ungodly, although they may not presume openly to deprive God of his authority and dominion, yet run headlong to every excess of wickedness, not less boldly than if he were bound with fetters. 170 We have taken notice of an almost similar manner of speaking in a preceding psalm, (Ps 7:13)
This contrast between the power of the enemies of God and his people, and the work of God in breaking up their proceedings, very well illustrates the wonderful character of the succor which he granted to his people. The ungodly had set to themselves no limit in the work of doing mischief, save in the utter destruction of all things, and at the commencement complete destruction seemed to be at hand; but when things were in this state of confusion, God seasonably made his appearance for the help of his people. 171 As often, therefore, as nothing but destruction presents itself to our view, to whatever side we may turn, 172 let us remember to lift up our eyes to the heavenly throne, whence God beholds all that is done here below. In the world our affairs may have been brought to such an extremity, that there is no longer hope in regard to them; but the shield with which we ought to repel all the temptations by which we are assailed is this, that God, nevertheless, sits Judge in heaven. Yea, when he seems to take no notice of us, and does not immediately remedy the evils which we suffer, it becomes us to realize by faith his secret providence. The Psalmist says, in the first place, God sitteth for ever, by which he means, that however high the violence of men may be carried, and although their fury may burst forth without measure, they can never drag God from his seat. He farther means by this expression, that it is impossible for God to abdicate the office and authority of judge; a truth which he expresses more clearly in the second clause of the verse, He hath prepared his throne for judgment, in which he declares that God reigns not only for the purpose of making his majesty and glory surpassingly great, but also for the purpose of governing the world in righteousness.
8. And he shall judge the world in righteousness. As David has just now testified, that the power of God is not inactive, so that he dwells in heaven only indulging himself in pleasures; but that it is a constantly operating power which he exercises in preserving his authority, and governing the world in righteousness and equity; so in this verse he adds the use of this doctrine, which is this, that the power of God is not shut up in heaven, but manifests itself in succouring men. The true doctrine on this subject, is not, like Epicurus, to imagine that God is a being wholly devoted to ease and pleasures, and who, satisfied with himself alone, has no care whatever about mankind, but to place him on the throne of power and equity, so that we may be fully persuaded, that although he does not immediately succor those who are unrighteously oppressed, yet there is not a moment in which he ceases to take a deep interest in them. And when he seems for a time to take no notice of things, the conclusion to which we should come most assuredly is, not that he deserts his office, but that he wishes hereby to exercise the patience of his people, and that, therefore, we should wait the issue in patience, and with tranquillity of mind. The demonstrative pronoun He, in my opinion, is of great weight. The import of it is, as if David had said, No one can deprive God of his office as Judge of the world, nor prevent him from extending his judgments to all nations. Whence it follows, that he will much more be the judge of his own people. David declares these judgments to be righteous, in order to induce us, when we are unrighteously and cruelly molested, to ask assistance from God, in the confident expectation of obtaining it; for since he judges the nations in righteousness, he will not suffer injustice and oppression always to reign with impunity in the world, nor deny his aid to the innocent.
9. And Jehovah will be a refuge to the poor, and a protection in seasonable times in trouble. 10. And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou forsakest not them that seek thee, O Jehovah. 11. Sing unto Jehovah, who dwelleth in Sion, and proclaim his doings among the nations. 12. For in requiring blood, he hath remembered it: he hath not forgotten the cry of the afflicted.
9. And Jehovah will be a refuge for the poor. David here furnishes a remedy for the temptation which greatly afflicts the weak, when they see themselves, and those who are like them, abandoned to the will of the ungodly, while God keeps silence. 173 He puts us in mind that God delays his aid, and to outward appearance forsakes his faithful ones, in order at length to succor them at a more convenient season, according to the greatness of their necessity and affliction. From this it follows, that he by no means ceases from the exercise of his office, although he suffer the good and the innocent to be reduced to extreme poverty, and although he exercise them with weeping and lamentations; for by doing this he lights up a lamp to enable them to see his judgments the more clearly. Accordingly, David expressly declares, that God interposes his protection seasonably in the afflictions of his people. The Lord will be a protection to the poor in seasonable times in trouble From this we are taught the duty of giving his providence time to make itself at length manifest in the season of need. And if protection by the power of God, and the experience of his fatherly favor, is the greatest blessing which we can receive, let us not feel so uneasy at being accounted poor and miserable before the world, but let this consolatory consideration assuage our grief, that God is not far from us, seeing our afflictions call upon him to come to our aid. Let us also observe, that God is said to be at hand in seasonable times when he succours the faithful during their affliction. 174 The Hebrew word בצרה, batsarah, which occurs in the end of the 9th verse, is understood by some as if it were the simple word which signifies defense; but here they render it metaphorically distress, denoting those trying circumstances in which a person is so closely shut up, and reduced to such extremity, that he can find no escape. I, however, think there is more probability in the opinion of those who take ב, the first letter of בצרה, batsarah, as a servile letter meaning in, which is its ordinary signification. 175 What is here said, then, is, that God assists his own people in the time of need, namely, in affliction, or when they are weighed down with it, for then assistance is most necessary and most useful.
In the tenth verse, the Psalmist teaches us, that when the Lord delivers the righteous, the fruit which results from it is, that they themselves, and all the rest of the righteous, acquire increasing confidence in his grace; for, unless we are fully persuaded that God exercises a care about men and human affairs, we must necessarily be troubled with constant disquietude. But as most men shut their eyes that they may not see the judgments of God, David restricts this advantage to the faithful alone, and, certainly, where there is no godliness, there is no sense of the works of God. It is also to be observed, that he attributes to the faithful the knowledge of God; because from this religion proceeds, whereas it is extinguished through the ignorance and stupidity of men. Many take the name of God simply for God himself; but, as I have observed in my remarks on a preceding psalm, I think something more is expressed by this term. As God’s essence is hidden and incomprehensible, his name just means his character, so far as he has been pleased to make it known to us. David next explains the ground of this trust in God to be, that he does not forsake those who seek him God is sought in two ways, either by invocation and prayers, or by studying to live a holy and an upright life; and, indeed, the one is always inseparably joined with the other. But as the Psalmist is here treating of the protection of God, on which the safety of the godly depends, to seek God, as I understand it, is to betake ourselves to him for help and relief in danger and distress.
11. Sing unto Jehovah. David, not contented with giving thanks individually, and on his own account, exhorts the faithful to unite with him, praising God, and to do this not only because it is their duty to stir up one another to this religious exercise, but because the deliverances of which he treats were worthy of being publicly and solemnly celebrated; and this is expressed more clearly in the second clause, where he commands them to be published among the nations. The meaning is, that they are not published or celebrated as they deserve, unless the whole world is filled with the renown of them. To proclaim God’s doings among the nations was indeed, as it were, to sing to the deaf; but by this manner of speaking, David intended to show that the territory of Judea was too narrow to contain the infinite greatness of Jehovah’s praises. He gives God this title, He who dwelleth in Sion, to distinguish him from all the false gods of the Gentiles. There is in the phrase a tacit comparison between the God who made his covenant with Abraham and Israel, and all the gods who, in every other part of the world except Judea, were worshipped according to the blinded and depraved fancies of men. It is not enough for persons to honor and reverence some deity indiscriminately or at random; they must distinctly yield to the only living and true God the worship which belongs to him, and which he commands. Moreover, as God had particularly chosen Sion as the place where his name might be called upon, David very properly assigns it to him as his peculiar dwelling-place, not that it is lawful to attempt to shut up, in any particular place, Him whom “the heaven of heavens cannot contain,” (1Ki 8:1.) but because, as we shall afterwards see, (Ps 132:12) he had promised to make it his rest for ever. David did not, according to his own fancy, assign God a dwelling-place there; but he understood, by a revelation from heaven, that such was the pleasure of God himself, as Moses had often predicted, (De 12:1.) This goes far to prove what I have said before, that this psalm was not composed upon the occasion of David’s victory over Goliath; for it was only towards the close of David’s reign that the ark of the covenant was removed to Sion according to the commandment of God. The conjecture of some that David spake by the Spirit of prophecy of the residence of the ark on Sion, as a future event, appears to me to be unnatural and forced. Farther, we see that the holy fathers, when they resorted to Sion to offer sacrifices to God, did not act merely according to the suggestion of their own minds; but what they did proceeded from faith in the word of God, and was done in obedience to his command; and they were, therefore, approved of by him for their religious service. Whence it follows, that there is no ground whatever to make use of their example as an argument or excuse for the religious observances which superstitious men have, by their own fancy, invented for themselves. Besides, it was not enough for the faithful, in those days, to depend upon the word of God, and to engage in those ceremonial services which he required, unless, aided by external symbols, they elevated their minds above these, and yielded to God spiritual worship. God, indeed, gave real tokens of his presence in that visible sanctuary, but not for the purpose of binding the senses and thoughts of his people to earthly elements; he wished rather that these external symbols should serve as ladders, by which the faithful might ascend even to heaven. The design of God from the commencement in the appointment of the sacraments, and all the outward exercises of religion, was to consult the infirmity and weak capacity of his people. Accordingly, even at the present day, the true and proper use of them is, to assist us in seeking God spiritually in his heavenly glory, and not to occupy our minds with the things of this world, or keep them fixed in the vanities of the flesh, a subject which we shall afterwards have a more suitable opportunity of discussing more fully. And as the Lord, in ancient times, when he called himself, He who dwelleth in Sion, intended to give his people full and solid ground of trust, tranquillity, and joy; so even now, after the law has come out of Sion, and the covenant of grace has flowed to us from that fountain, let us know and be fully persuaded, that wherever the faithful, who worship him purely and in due form, according to the appointment of his word, are assembled together to engage in the solemn acts of religious worship, he is graciously present, and presides in the midst of them.
12. For in requiring blood. In the original, it is bloods, in the plural number, and, therefore, the relative which follows immediately after, And remembereth THEM, may very properly be referred to that word in this way, He requireth bloods, and remembereth them. But as it is sufficiently common in Hebrew to invert the order of the antecedent and the relative, and to put them before the word to which it refers, 176 some explain it of the poor, thus: In requiring blood, he hath remembered them, namely, the poor, of whom he speaks a little after. As to the sum and substance of the matter, it is of small importance in which of these ways we explain the relative; but the former is, in my view, the more natural explanation. There is here a repetition of what the Psalmist had said a little before, that we ought especially to consider God’s power, as it is manifested in the mercy which he exercises towards his servants, who are unrighteously persecuted by wicked men. From the numerous works of God, he selects one which he commends as especially worthy of being remembered, namely, his work in delivering the poor from death. God sometimes leaves them in his holy providence to be persecuted by men; but at length he takes vengeance for the wrongs inflicted upon them. The words which David uses denote a continued act; but I have no doubt that he intends from those examples, which he has related in the preceding part of the psalm, to lead men to acknowledge that God requireth innocent blood, and remembers the cry of his people.
He again insists on what I adverted to before, that God does not always put a stop to injuries so speedily as we would wish, nor break the attempts of the wicked at the first, but rather withholds and delays his assistance, so that it may seem that we cry to him in vain, a truth which it is of importance for us to understand; for if we measure the help of God according to our senses, our courage will ever and anon fail us, and in the end our hope will be entirely extinguished, and will give place to despondency and despair. We would fondly wish him, as I have said, to stretch forth his hand to a distance, and drive back the troubles which he sees to be prepared for us; yet he seems to take no notice, and does not prevent the blood of the innocent from being shed. Let this consolatory consideration, however, sustain us, that he will at length actually show how precious our blood was in his sight. If it is objected, that God’s assistance comes too late, after we have endured all calamities, I answer, God delays to interfere no longer than he knows it to be of advantage for us to be humbled under the cross, and if he chooses rather to take vengeance after we have suffered outrage, than to aid us previous to the infliction of evil, it is not because he is not always willing and ready to succor us; but because he knows it is not always a proper time for manifesting his grace. By the way, it is a striking evidence, not only of his fatherly love towards us, but of the blessed immortality which is the portion of all the children of God, that he has a care about them even after they are dead. Were he always by his grace to prevent affliction from befalling us, who is there amongst us who would not be wholly attached to the present life? When, however, he avenges our death, from this it appears that, though dead, we still remain alive in his presence. For he does not, after the manner of men, hold in estimation the memory of those whom he could not preserve alive, 177 but he actually shows that he cherishes in his bosom, and gives protection to those who seem to be no more, viewing them according to the flesh. And this is the reason why David says that he remembereth blood when he requireth it; for although he may not presently deliver his servants from the swords of the wicked, yet he suffers not their murder to pass unpunished. To the same purpose is the last clause He forgetteth not the cry of the afflicted God may not show, by granting instant deliverance or relief, that he lends an immediate ear to the complaints of his servants; but at length he proves unanswerably that he has regarded them. Express mention is made of crying, to encourage all who desire to experience God as their deliverer and protector, to direct their wishes, groanings, and prayers to him.
13. Have mercy upon me, O Jehovah, see my affliction which I suffer from those who persecute me, thou that liftest me up from the gates of death. 14. That I may recount all thy praises in the gates of the daughter of Sion; and that I may rejoice in thy salvation.
13. Have mercy upon me, O Jehovah. I think that this is the second part of the psalm. Others, however, are of a different opinion, and consider that David, according to his frequent practice, while giving thanks to God for the deliverance wrought for him, mingles with his thanksgiving an account of what had been the matter of his prayer in the extremity of his distress; and examples of the same kind, I confess, are every where to be met with in the Psalms. But when I consider all the circumstances more attentively, I am constrained to incline to the other opinion, namely, that in the commencement he celebrated the favors conferred upon him in order to make way for prayer; and the psalm is at last concluded with a prayer. He does not, therefore, in passing here insert the prayers which he had formerly made in the midst of his dangers and anxieties; but he purposely implores help from God at the present time, 178 and asks that He, whom he had often experienced as his deliverer, would continue the exercise of the same grace towards him. His enemies, perhaps, whom he had already vanquished on various occasions, having gathered new courage, and raised new forces, made a desperate effort, as we often see those who are driven to despair rush upon their enemies just with the greater impetuosity and rage. It is indeed certain, that David, when he offered this prayer, was seized with the greatest fear; for he would not, on account of a small matter, have called upon God to witness his affliction in the way he here does. It ought to be observed, that while he humbly betakes himself to the mercy of God, he bears, with a patient and submissive mind, the cross which was laid upon him. 179 But we ought chiefly to mark the title which he gives to God, calling him his lifter up from the gates of death; for we could not find a more appropriate expression than to lift up for the Hebrew word מרומם, meromem. By this the Psalmist, in the first place, strengthens his faith from his past experience, inasmuch as he had often been delivered from the greatest dangers. And, in the second place, he assures himself of deliverance, even in the very jaws of death; because God is accustomed not only to succor his servants, and to deliver them from their calamities by ordinary means, but also to bring them from the grave, even after all hope of life is cut off; for the gates of death is a metaphorical expression, denoting the utmost perils which threaten destruction, or rather, which lay the grave open before us. In order, therefore, that neither the weight of the calamities which we presently endure, nor the fear of those which we see impending over us, may overwhelm our faith, or interrupt our prayers, let us call to our remembrance that the office of lifting up his people from the gates of death is not ascribed to God in vain.
14. That I may recount. David’s meaning simply is, that he will celebrate the praises of God in all assemblies, and, wherever there is the greatest concourse of people, (for at that time it was the custom to hold assemblies at the gates of cities;) but, at the same time, there seems to be an allusion to the gates of death, of which he has just spoken, as if he had said, After I am delivered from the grave, I will do my endeavor to bear testimony, in the most public manner, to the goodness of God, manifested in my deliverance. As, however, it is not sufficient to utter the praises of God with our tongues, if they do not proceed from the heart, the Psalmist, in the last clause of the verse, expresses the inward joy with which he would engage in this exercise, And that I may rejoice in thy salvation; as if he had said, I desire to live in this world for no other purpose than to rejoice in having been preserved by the grace of God. Under the name of daughter, as is well known, the Jews meant a people or city, but he here names the city from its principal part, namely, Sion.
15. The heathen are sunk into the pit which they made; in the net which they have hid are their own feet taken. 16. Jehovah is known by executing judgment. The wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. Higgaion. Selah.
15. The heathen are sunk. David being now raised up to holy confidence, triumphs over his enemies. In the first place, he says metaphorically, that they were taken in their own craftiness and snares. He next expresses the same thing without figure, that they were snared in their own wickedness. And he affirms that this happened not by chance, but was the work of God, and a striking proof of his judgment. When he compares his enemies to hunters or fowlers, it is not without having just ground for doing so. The wicked, it is true, often commit violence and outrage, yet in deceits and cunning artifices they always imitate their father Satan, who is the father of lies, and, therefore, whatever ingenuity they have, they employ it in practising wickedness and in devising mischief. As often, therefore, as wicked men cunningly plot our destruction, let us remember that it is no new thing for them to lay nets and snares for the children of God. At the same time, let us comfort ourselves from the reflection, that whatever they may attempt against us, the issue is not in their power, and that God will be against them, not only to frustrate their designs, but also to surprise them in the wicked devices which they frame, and to make all their resources of mischief to fall upon their own heads.
16. The Lord is known in executing judgment. The reading of the words literally is this, The known Lord has done judgment. This manner of speech is abrupt, and its very brevity renders it obscure. It is therefore explained in two ways. Some explain it thus:- God begins then to be known when he punishes the wicked. But the other sense suits the passage better, namely, that it is a thing obvious and manifest to all that God executes the office of judge, as often as he ensnares the wicked in their own maliciousness. In short, whenever God turns back upon themselves whatever schemes of mischief they devise, David declares that in this case the divine judgment is so evident, that what happens can be ascribed neither to nature nor to fortune. If God, therefore, in this way manifestly display, at any time, the power of his hand, let us learn to open our eyes, that from the judgments which he executes upon the enemies of his Church our faith may be confirmed more and more. As to the word Higgaion, which properly signifies meditation, I cannot at present assign a better reason why it has been inserted than this, that David intended to fix the minds of the godly in meditation upon the judgments of God. The word Selah was intended to answer the same purpose, and as I have said before, regulated the singing in such a manner as to make the music correspond to the words and the sentiment.
17. The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. 18. For the poor shall not always be forgotten; the hope of the humble shall not perish for ever.
17. The wicked shall be turned into hell. Many translate the verb in the optative mood, Let the wicked be turned into hell, as if it were an imprecation. But, in my judgment, David here rather confirms himself and all the godly with respect to the future, declaring that whatever the wicked may attempt, it will have a termination disastrous to themselves. By the word turn he means that the issue will be far otherwise than what they imagine; for there is implied in it a tacit contrast between the height of their presumption and the depth of their fall. As they have no fear of God, they exalt themselves above the clouds; and then, as if they had “made a covenant with death,” according to the language of Isaiah, (Isa 28:15) they become so much the more arrogant and presumptuous. But when we see them raging without apprehension of danger, the prophet warns us that their madness carries them headlong, so that, at length, they fall into the grave, from which they thought themselves to be a great way off. Here, then, is described to us the sudden and unexpected change, by which God, when he pleases, restores to order things which were in confusion. When, therefore, we see the wicked flying aloft devoid of all fear, let us, by the eyes of faith, behold the grave which is prepared for them; and rest assured that the hand of God, although it is unseen, is very near, which can turn them back in the midst of their course in which they aim at reaching heaven, and make them tumble into hell in a moment. The meaning of the Hebrew word שאולה, sheolah, is doubtful, but I have not hesitated to translate it hell 180 I do not find fault with those who translate it the grave, but it is certain that the prophet means something more than common death, otherwise he would here say nothing else with respect to the wicked than what would also happen to all the faithful in common with them. Though then, he does not speak in express terms of eternal destruction, but only says, They shall be turned into the grave, yet, under the metaphor of the grave, he intimates that all the ungodly shall perish, and that the presumption with which, by every unlawful means, they raise themselves on high to trample righteousness under foot, and to oppress the innocent, shall bring upon them ruin and perdition. The faithful, also, it is true, descend into the grave, but not with such fearful violence as plunges them into it without hope of coming out again. So far is this from being the case, that even when shut up in the grave, they dwell already in heaven by hope.
18. For the poor shall not always be forgotten. The assertion that God will not forsake the poor and afflicted for ever, is a confirmation of the preceding sentence. By it he intimates, that they may indeed seem to be forsaken for a time. Let us, therefore, remember that God has promised his assistance to us, not in the way of preventing our afflictions, but of at length succouring us after we have been long subdued under the cross. David speaks expressly of hope or expectation, thereby to encourage us to prayer. The reason why God seems to take no notice of our afflictions is, because he would have us to awaken him by means of our prayers; for when he hears our requests, (as if he began but then to be mindful of us,) he stretches forth his powerful hand to help us. David again repeats that this is not done immediately, in order that we may persevere in hoping well, even although our expectations may not be instantly gratified.
19. Arise, O Jehovah; let not man 181 prevail: let the nations be judged in thy sight. 20. Put them in fear, O Jehovah; that the nations may know that they are men.
19. Arise, O Jehovah. When David beseeches God to arise, the expression does not strictly apply to God, but it refers to external appearance and to our senses; for we do not perceive God to be the deliverer of his people except when he appears before our eyes, as it were sitting upon the judgment-seat. There is added a consideration or reason to induce God to avenge the injuries done to his people, namely, that man may not prevail; for when God arises, all the fierceness 182 of the ungodly must immediately fall down and give way. Whence is it that the wicked become so audaciously insolent, or have so great power to work mischief, if it is not because God is still, and gives them loose reins? But, as soon as he shows some token of his judgment, he immediately puts a stop to their proud tumults, 183 and breaks their strength and power with his nod alone. 184 We are taught, by this manner of praying, that however insolently and proudly our enemies may boast of what they will do, yet they are in the hand of God, and can do no more than what he permits them; and farther, that God can doubtless, whenever he pleases, render all their endeavors vain and ineffectual. The Psalmist, therefore, in speaking of them, calls them man. The word in the original is אנוש, enosh, which is derived from a root signifying misery or wretchedness, and, accordingly, it is the same thing as if he had called them mortal or frail man. Farther, the Psalmist beseeches God to judge the heathen before his face God is said to do this when he compels them, by one means or another, to appear before his judgment-seat. We know that unbelievers, until they are dragged by force into the presence of God, turn their backs upon him as much as they can, in order to exclude from their minds all thought of him as their Judge.
20. Put them in fear, O Jehovah. The Septuagint translates מורה, morah, [νομοθέτης,] a lawgiver, deriving it from ירה, yarah, which sometimes signifies to teach. 185 But the scope of the passage requires that we should understand it of fear or dread; and this is the opinion of all sound expositors. Now, it is to be considered of what kind of fear David speaks. God commonly subdues even his chosen ones to obedience by means of fear. But as he moderates his rigour towards them, and, at the same time, softens their stony hearts, so that they willingly and quietly submit themselves to him, he cannot be properly said to compel them by fear. With respect to the reprobate, he takes a different way of dealing. As their obduracy is inflexible, so that it is easier to break than to bend them, he subdues their desperate obstinacy by force; not, indeed, that they are reformed, but, whether they will or no, an acknowledgement of their own weakness is extorted from them. They may gnash their teeth and boil with rage, and even exceed in cruelty wild beasts, but when the dread of God seizes upon them, they are thrown down with their own violence, and fall with their own weight. Some explain these words as a prayer that God would bring the nations under the yoke of David, and make them tributaries to his government; but this is a cold and forced explanation. The word fear comprehends in general all the plagues of God, by which is repulsed, as by the heavy blows of a hammer, 186 the rebellion of those who would never obey him except by compulsion.
There follows next the point to which the nations must be brought, namely, to acknowledge themselves to be mortal men. This, at first sight, seems to be a matter of small importance; but the doctrine which it contains is far from being trifling. What is man, that he dares of himself to move a finger? And yet all the ungodly run to excess as boldly and presumptuously as if there were nothing to hinder them from doing whatever they please. It is certainly through a distempered imagination that they claim to themselves what is peculiar to God; and, in short, they would never run to so great excess if they were not ignorant of their own condition. David, when he beseeches God to strike the nations with terror, that they may know that they are men, 187 does not mean that the ungodly will profit so much under the rods and chastisements of God as to humble themselves truly and from the heart; but the knowledge of which he speaks just means an experience of their own weakness. His language is as if he had said, Lord, since it is their ignorance of themselves which hurries them into their rage against me, make them actually to experience that their strength is not equal to their infatuated presumption, and after they are disappointed of their vain hopes, let them lie confounded and abased with shame. It may often happen that those who are convinced of their own weakness do not yet reform; but much is gained when their ungodly presumption is exposed to mockery and scorn before the world, that it may appear how ridiculous was the confidence which they presumed to place in their own strength. With respect to the chosen of God, they ought to profit under his chastisements after another manner. It becomes them to be humbled under a sense of their own weakness, and willingly to divest themselves of all vain confidence and presumption. And this will be the case if they remember that they are but men. Augustine has well and wisely said, that the whole humility of man consists in the knowledge of himself. Moreover, since pride is natural to all, God requires to strike terror into all men indiscriminately, that, on the one hand, his own people may learn to be humble, and that, on the other hand, the wicked, although they cease not to elevate themselves above the condition of man, may be put back with shame and confusion.
“Comme on a accoustum de parler quand la chose est obscure.” — Fr.
Or, leap for joy. This is the precise meaning of the Hebrew word אעלצה The Septuagint render it ἀγαλλιάσομαι, which means the same thing.
“Et sont ruinez devant ta face.” — Fr. “And are overthrown before thy face.”
“Doit servir pour nous asseurer et faire esperer qu’il nous sera propice et debonnaire, l’advenir.” — Fr.
“De la faveur qu’il a receu, de Dieu.” — Fr.
“Processions.” — Fr.
“Afin que leurs belles prouesses veissent en cognaissance.” — Fr.
“Qu’ils sont entre Dieu et eux.” — Fr.
“Afin de deseouvrir son coeur a Dieu plus alaigrement.” — Fr.
“Mais pource que Dieu a battacile pour luy. — Fr.
The idea implied in the verb כשל, cashal, is that of stumbling, and it is here employed in a military sense. In Ps 27:2, where it is said of David’s enemies, “they stumbled and fell;” this is the verb used for stumbled. The idea there is not properly that of falling, but of being wounded and weakened by the stumbling-blocks in the way, previous to falling. The word כשל, cashal, has been viewed as having the same meaning in the passage before us. “It refers,” says Hammond, “to those that either faint in a march or are wounded in a battle, or especially that in flight meet with galling traps in their way, and so are galled and lamed, rendered unable to go forward, and so fall, and become liable to all the ill chances of pursuits, and as here are overtaken and perish in the fall.”
“C’est la face de Dieu qui les poursuit.” — Fr. “It is the face of God which pursues them.”
“Ou pour juger justement.” — Fr. marg. “Or to judge righteously.”
“J’ay mieux aime traduire, Tu t’es assis juste juge; que, O juste juge tu t’es assis.” — Fr.
“Demolished. The Hebrew word expresses the tearing up of the foundations of the buildings.” —Horsley.
“Que s’il avait les pieds et mains liees.” — Fr. “Than if he were bound hand and foot.”
“Dieu s’est montre bien a propos pour secourir les gens. — Fr.
“De quelque coste que nous-nous seachions tourner.” — Fr.
“Exposez a l’appetit et cruaute des meschans, sans que Dieu fkee semblant d’en rien veoir ne scavoir.” — Fr. “Exposed to the desire and cruelty of the wicked, while God seems neither to see nor to know any thing about it”
“Notons aussi que Dieu est dit estre prest en temps opportun quand il subvient aux fideles lors qu’ils sour, affligez.” — Fr.
“In critical times, לעתות, leitoth; in [the season of] distress, בצרה, batsarah, בצרה is the substantive צרה under its own preposition ב, and is not so well rendered as a genitive following עתות.” — Horsley
“Et de mettre Eux, devant le mot auquel il se rapporte.” — Fr.
“Car ce n’est pas qu’il face comme les hommes qui auront en estime et reverence apres la mort la memoire de leurs amis quand ils ne leur ont peu sauver la vie. — Fr. “For he does not act like men, who hold in estimation and reverence after death the memory of their friends, when they can no longer preserve their life.”
“In the 12th verse,” says Horsley, “the Psalmist having mentioned it as a part of the divine character, that God forgetteth not the cry of the helpless, naturally thinks upon his own helpless state, and in the 13th and 14th verses cries for deliverance. The promise of the overthrow of the faction, which were the principal instruments of his affliction, recurring to his thoughts, he breaks out again in the 15th verse in strains of exultation.” The transition from the language of triumph, in the preceding part of the psalm, to the language of prayer and complaint in the 13th verse, and the mixture of triumph and complaint in the sequel of the psalm, are very remarkable. This was the natural effect of the Psalmist’s present distressed condition. The pressure of his affliction excited him, on the one hand, to utter the language of dejection; while his confident expectation of deliverance prompted him, on the other hand, to utter the language of triumph.
“Or il faut noter que quand il ya humblement au recours a la misericorde de Dieu, c’est signe qu’il portoit doucement et patienment, la croix que Dieu luy avoir comme raise sur les espaules.” — Fr. “But it ought to be observed, that, while he humbly betakes himself to the mercy of God, it is a sign that he bore, submissively and patiently, the cross which God had, as it were, laid upon his shoulders.”
“Le mot Hebreu, pour lequel nous avons traduit Enfer signifie aussi Sepulchre; mais j’ay mieux aime retenir ceste signification. — Fr. “The Hebrew word which we have translated hell also signifies the grave; but I have preferred to retain the former meaning of the word.”
“L’homme mortel.” — Fr. “Mortal man.”
“Toute la fierte et arrogance.” — Fr. “All the pride and arrogance.”
“Leur rage et insolence.” — Fr. “Their rage and insolence.”
“Solo nutu.” - Lat. “Enfaisant signe seulement du bout du doigt.” — Fr.
The Chaldee version reads fear, but the Syriac, Ethiopic, and Vulgate versions follow the Septuagint. The Arabic employs a word of nearly the same import, signifying a doctor or teacher of the law. In it is, “O Lord set a schoolmaster over them.” Augustine and Jerome, who adopted the reading of the Septuagint, render the words, “Set, O Lord, a lawgiver over them;” and it was their opinion that lawgiver means antichrist, to whom God in his wrath gave dominion over the nations. According to others, lawgiver means Christ. Dr Horsley reads, “O Jehovah, appoint thou a teacher over them.” Ainsworth and Dr Adam Clarke adopt the same rendering, and view the words as a prayer that the nations may learn humility and piety, that they may know their accountability to God, and become wise unto salvation.
“Tous fleax de Dieu par lesquels est rembarre comme a grans coups de marteau.” — Fr.
The original word is אנוש, enosh; and therefore it is a prayer that they may know themselves to be but miserable, frail, and dying men. The word is in the singular number, but it is used collectively.