Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 8: Psalms, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
David here complains, in his own name, and in the name of all the godly, that fraud, extortion, cruelty, violence, and all kind of injustice, prevailed every where in the world; and the cause which he assigns for this is, that ungodly and wicked men, being intoxicated with their prosperity, have shaken off all fear of God, and think they may do whatever they please with impunity. Accordingly, he earnestly beseeches God to help him, and to remedy his desperate calamities. In the close, he comforts himself and the rest of the faithful with the hope of obtaining deliverance in due time. This description represents, as in a mirror, a lively image of a widely corrupt and disorganised state of society. When, therefore, we see iniquity breaking out like a flood, that the strangeness of such a temptation may not shake the faith of the children of God and cause them to fall into despair, let them learn to look into this mirror. It tends greatly to lighten grief, to consider that nothing befalls us at this day which the Church of God has not experienced in the days of old; yea, rather that we are just called to engage in the same conflicts with which David and the other holy patriarchs were exercised. Farther, the faithful are admonished to have recourse to God in such a confused state of things; for unless they are convinced that it belongs to God to succor them, and to remedy such a state of matters, they will gain nothing by indulging in confused murmurings, and rending the air with their cries and complaints.
1. Why standest thou afar off, O Jehovah? and winkest at seasonable times in trouble? 188 2. The ungodly in his pride doth persecute the poor; 189 let them be caught in the devices 190 which they imagine.
1. Lord, why standest thou afar off? We here see how the prophet, seeking a remedy for his calamities, which were apparently past hope, directly addresses himself to God at the very commencement. And the rule which we should observe, when we are in trouble and sorrow, is this: We should seek comfort and solace in the providence of God; for amidst our agitations, vexations, and cares, we ought to be fully persuaded that it is his peculiar office to give relief to the wretched and afflicted. It is in an improper sense, and by anthropathy, 191 that the Psalmist speaks of God as standing afar off. Nothing can be hid from his eyes; but as God permits us to speak to him as we do to one another, these forms of expression do not contain any thing absurd, provided we understand them as applied to God, not in a strict sense, but only figuratively, according to the judgment which mere sense forms from the present appearance of things. It is possible that a righteous man may not check an injury which is done to a poor man before his eyes, because he is destitute of the power; but this cannot be the case with respect to God, who is always armed with invincible power. If, therefore, he act as if he took no notice, it is the same as if he withdrew himself afar off. The word תעלים, taelim, which signifies to hide, is explained in two ways. According to some, David here complains of God for hiding himself, as if he accounted the care of human affairs beneath him. Others understand it as meaning to shut the eyes; and this appears to me to be the more simple view. It is to be observed, that although David here complains that God kept himself afar off, he was, notwithstanding, fully persuaded of his presence with him, otherwise it would have been in vain to have called upon him for aid. The interrogation which he employs is to this effect: Lord, since it is thy prerogative to govern the world, and also to regulate it by thy righteousness as thou sustainest it by thy power, why is it that thou dost not more quickly show thyself a defender of thine own people against the arrogance and incredible pride of the ungodly? David, however, speaks thus not so much in the way of complaining, as to encourage himself in the confidence of obtaining what he desired. Through the infirmity of sense, he says, that it is unbecoming of God to cease so long from executing his office; and yet, at the same time, he fails not to yield to him the honor which is his due, and by his prayers he deposits into his bosom the great burden of trouble with which he was laden. The expression which follows, at needful times, relates to the same subject. Although God may not stretch forth his hand to take vengeance 192 at every moment, yet when he beholds the simple and innocent oppressed, it is not time for him to defer any longer. David briefly defines the fit time for putting the hand to the work to be when the faithful are in distress. Of this form of speech we have spoken in the preceding psalm, at the tenth verse.
2. The ungodly in his pride, etc Before uttering his prayer against the ungodly, the Psalmist briefly sets forth their wickedness in cruelly vexing the afflicted, for no other reason but because they disdain and despise them, through the pride with which they are inflated. And their cruelty is not a little enhanced from this, that, forgetful of all humanity, they contemptuously triumph over the poor and afflicted, mocking them and inflicting injuries upon them. 193 Cruelty is, indeed, always proud, yea, rather, pride is the mother of all wrongs; for if a man did not through pride magnify himself above his neighbors, and through an overweening conceit of himself despise them, even common humanity would teach us with what humility and justice we ought to conduct ourselves towards each other. But David here intended to state that the only cause why the ungodly, whom he accuses, exercise their cruelty against the wretched and the needy, from whom they receive no provocation, is the pride and arrogance of their own spirits. Let every one, therefore, who desires to live justly and unblameably with his brethren, beware of indulging or taking pleasure in treating others disdainfully; and let him endeavor, above all things, to have his mind freed from the disease of pride. The word דלק, dalak, signifies to suffer persecution, as well as to persecute; and, therefore, some prefer translating the words, The poor is persecuted in the pride of the ungodly. 194 They may also not improperly be rendered thus, The poor burns in the pride of the ungodly, because this is the more common signification of the word. The pride of the wicked, like fire, devours the poor and afflicted.
3. For the ungodly praiseth himself on account of the desire of his own soul; and the violent man blesseth himself; he despiseth Jehovah. 4. The ungodly, in the pride of his countenance, 195 inquireth not: all his devices say, There is no God.
3. For the ungodly praiseth himself. This verse is variously explained. Literally the reading is, For praiseth the wicked or ungodly; and it is therefore necessary to supply some word, but what word is disputed. 196 Some translate the words, ungodly and violent man, in the accusative case, thus: He praiseth the ungodly, and blesseth the violent man; because they think it strange that after “praiseth” the sentence should end abruptly, without any thing being said of who or what was praised. But since it is quite common in Hebrew, when the agent and the subject are one and the same person, to express the word only once, while we repeat it in order to complete the sense, the interpretation which I have followed appears to me the most proper, namely, that the ungodly man praises himself, and boasts of the desire of his soul, and blesses himself. Now, it may be asked, What is this desire of soul? It is usually understood in this sense, 197 that the ungodly flatter and applaud themselves, while fortune smiles on them, and they obtain their wishes, and enjoy whatever they desire; just as David adds, a little after, that they abuse their prosperity, in attempting whatever comes into their fancy. But, in my opinion, desire of soul here denotes rather lust, and the intemperate gratification of passion and appetite; and thus the meaning is, that they indulge themselves with delight in their depraved desires, and, despising the judgment of God, fearlessly absolve themselves from all guilt, maintain their innocence, 198 and justify their impiety. Moses uses a similar form of expression in De 29:19,
“I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart.”
David, indeed, says a little after, that the ungodly abuse their prosperity, by flattering themselves; but here, in my judgment, he expresses something more weighty, namely, that they acquire praise from their presumptuousness, and glory in their wickedness; and this foolish confidence, or bold assurance, is the cause of their throwing off all restraint and breaking forth into every kind of excess. Accordingly, I interpret the words praise and bless as having the same meaning, just as the words, ungodly and violent man, are synonymous in this place, although they differ from each other as genus and species. With these statements agrees what is immediately added in the end of the verse that these ungodly persons despise God. To translate the verb, to blaspheme, as has been done by some, or to provoke to anger, as has been done by others, is too remote from the scope of the passage. David rather teaches, that the cause of their careless indulgence in the gratification of their lusts, is their base contempt of God. He who duly reflects that God will be his judge is so much alarmed by this reflection, that he dares not bless his soul while his conscience accuses him of guilt and of being given to the practice of sin. 199
4. The ungodly, in the pride of his countenance, etc Others translate the words, The ungodly man, by reason of the violence of his anger, or, in the pride which he displays, does not inquire after God. But this partly perverts the meaning, and partly weakens the force of what David intended to express. In the first place, the word inquire, which is here put absolutely, that is, without any noun which it governs, is, according to this translation, improperly limited to God. David simply means, that the ungodly, without examination, permit themselves to do any thing, or do not distinguish between what is lawful and unlawful, because their own lust is their law, yea, rather, as if superior to all laws, they fancy that it is lawful for them to do whatever they please. The beginning of well-doing in a man’s life is inquiry; in other words, we can only begin to do well when we keep ourselves from following, without choice and discrimination, the dictates of our own fancy, and from being carried away by the wayward propensities of our flesh. But the exercise of inquiring proceeds from humility, when we assign to God, as is reasonable, the place of judge and ruler over us. The prophet, therefore, very properly says, that the reason why the ungodly, without any regard or consideration, presume to do whatever they desire, is because, being lifted up with pride, they leave to God nothing whatever of the prerogative of a judge. The Hebrew word פף, aph, which we have translated countenance, I have no doubt is here taken in its proper and natural signification, and not metaphorically for anger; because haughty persons show their effrontery even by their countenance.
In the second clause, the prophet more severely, or, at least, more openly, accuses them, declaring that all their wicked imaginations show that they have no God. All his devices say, There is no God 200 By these words I understand, that through their heaven-daring presumption, they subvert all piety and justice, as if there were no God sitting in heaven. Did they truly believe that there is a God, the fear of the judgment to come would restrain them. Not that they plainly and distinctly deny the existence of a God, but then they strip him of his power. Now, God would be merely like an idol, if, contented with an inactive existence, he should divest himself of his office as judge. Whoever, therefore, refuse to admit that the world is subject to the providence of God, or do not believe that his hand is stretched forth from on high to govern it, do as much as in them lies to put an end to the existence of God. It is not, however, enough to have some cold and unimpressive knowledge of him in the head; it is only the true and heartfelt conviction of his providence which makes us reverence him, and which keeps us in subjection 201 to him. The greater part of interpreters understand the last clause as meaning generally, that all the thoughts of a wicked man tend to the denial of a God. In my opinion, the Hebrew word מזמות, mezimmoth, is here, as in many other places, taken in a bad sense for cunning and wicked thoughts, 202 so that the meaning, as I have noticed already, is this: Since the ungodly have the hardihood to devise and perpetrate every kind of wickedness, however atrocious, it is from this sufficiently manifest, that they have cast off all fear of God from their hearts.
5. His ways are prosperous at all times; on high are thy judgments before him; he puffeth at all his enemies. 6. He saith in his heart, I shall not be moved from generation to generation, because he is not in adversity.
There is a great diversity of opinion among interpreters respecting the first clause of this verse. The translators of the Septuagint version, thinking the word יחילו, yachilu, which is in the future tense, derived from the root חלל, chalal, which it is not, have rendered it, his ways are defiled. But it is agreed among the Jewish expositors, that it is derived from the root חול, chol. Many among them, however, take it actively for to put one in fear, or to put one to trouble, as if it had been said, The ways of the ungodly are dreadful to the good, and torment them. 203 Some also apply the words to God, reading the sentence thus, His ways come, that is to say, have their course, or prosper at all times. This, however, in my judgment, is too forced. But as this word, in other texts of Scripture, means to be prosperous, I am surprised that there should be any difference of opinion among the learned concerning this passage, when immediately, in the next clause, the prophet clearly shows that he is speaking of the prosperous condition of the ungodly, and the continued course of pleasure which intoxicates them. He not only complains of this their prosperity, but from it he aggravates their guilt, in that they take occasion, from the goodness of God, to harden themselves in their wickedness. I would, therefor explain the verse thus: As they enjoy a continued course of prosperity, they dream that God is bound or plighted to them, and hence they put his judgments far from them; and if any man oppose them, they are confident they can immediately put him down, or dash him to pieces with a puff or breath. Now, we understand the simple meaning of the prophet to be, that the ungodly mock God, taking encouragement from his forbearance; as that base tyrant, Dionysius, because he had a prosperous voyage, after having plundered the temple of Proserpine, 204 boasted that God favored the sacrilegious. 205 Hence it is, that they put far from them the judgments of God.
In the opinion of some, these words, On high are thy judgments before him, mean much the same thing as if the prophet had said, God treats them with too much clemency, and spares them; just as he elsewhere complains of their being exempted from the common afflictions of life. But this interpretation does not so well agree with the words; yea, it appears to be unnatural and forced. The judgments of God then are said to be on high to the ungodly, because, presuming upon the great distance of God from them, 206 they promise themselves not only a truce with death during their whole life, but also an everlasting covenant with it. We see how, by procrastinating the evil day, they harden themselves, and become more and more obstinate in evil; 207 yea, persuading themselves that God is shut up in heaven, as if they had nothing to do with him, they strengthen themselves in the hope of escaping unpunished; 208 as we see them, in Isaiah, (Isa 22:13) jesting at the threatenings of the prophets, saying, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die.” When the prophets, in order to inspire the people with terror, denounced the dreadful vengeance of God, which was ready to be inflicted upon them, these wicked men cried out that it was all whims or idle stories. God therefore bitterly inveighs against them, because, when he called the people to mourning, ashes, and sackcloth, these mockers encouraged them to minstrelsy and feasting; and at length he swears, “As I live, surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die.” The faithful, indeed, lift up their eyes to heaven to behold the judgments of God; and they are not less afraid of them than if they were just ready to fall upon their heads. The ungodly, on the contrary, despise them, and yet, in order not to be disturbed or tormented with the fear or apprehension of them, they would banish them into heaven; just as the Epicureans, although they did not presume avowedly to deny the existence of a God, yet imagined that he is confined to heaven, where he indulges himself in idleness, without taking any concern about what is done here below. 209 From this infatuation flows their presumptuous confidence of which David speaks, by which they assure themselves of being able to destroy, with a puff or blast alone, all who are enemies to them. The word פוח, phuach, which sometimes signifies to ensnare, is here more properly taken for to puff, or to blow out.
The Psalmist confirms these statements in the next verse, where he tells us that the persons of whom he speaks are fully persuaded in their hearts that they are beyond all danger of change. He saith in his heart, I shall not be moved from generation to generation The ungodly often pour forth proud language to this effect. David, however, only touches the hidden ulcer of their vile arrogance, which they cherish in their own breasts, and therefore he does not say what they speak with their mouth, but what they persuade themselves of in their hearts. It may here be asked, Why does David blame in others what he professes concerning himself in so many places? 210 for trusting to the protection of God, he courageously triumphs over all dangers. 211 And surely it becomes the children of God effectually to provide for their safety, so that, although the world should a hundred times fall into ruins, they may have the comfortable assurance that they will remain unmoved. The answer to this question is easy, and it is this, The faithful promise themselves security in God, and no where else; and yet while they do this, they know themselves to be exposed to all the storms of affliction, and patiently submit to them. There is a very great difference between a despiser of God who, enjoying prosperity today, is so forgetful of the condition of man in this world, as through a distempered imagination to build his nest above the clouds, and who persuades himself that he shall always enjoy comfort and repose, 212 — there is a very great difference between him and the godly man, who, knowing that his life hangs only by a thread, and is encompassed by a thousand deaths, and who, ready to endure any kind of afflictions which shall be sent upon him, and living in the world as if he were sailing upon a tempestuous and dangerous sea, nevertheless, bears patiently all his troubles and sorrows, and comforts himself in his afflictions, because he leans wholly upon the grace of God, and entirely confides in it. 213 The ungodly man says, I shall not be moved, or I shall not shake for ever; because he thinks himself sufficiently strong and powerful to bear up against all the assaults which shall be made upon him. The faithful man says, What although I may happen to be moved, yea, even fall and sink into the lowest depths? my fall will not be fatal, for God will put his hand under me to sustain me. By this, in like manner, we are furnished with an explanation of the different effects which an apprehension of danger has upon the good and the bad. Good men may tremble and sink into despondency, but this leads them to flee with all haste to the sanctuary of God’s grace; 214 whereas the ungodly, while they are affrighted even at the noise of a falling leaf, 215 and live in constant uneasiness, endeavor to harden themselves in their stupidity, and to bring themselves into such a state of giddy frenzy, that being, as it were, carried out of themselves, they may not feel their calamities. The cause assigned for the confidence with which the prosperous ungodly man persuades himself that no change shall come upon him is, because he is not in adversity This admits of two senses. It either means, that the ungodly, because they have been exempted from all calamity and misery during the past part of their life, entertain the hope of a peaceful and joyful state in the time to come; or it means, that through a deceitful imagination they exempt themselves from the common condition of men; just as in Isaiah, (Isa 28:15) they say,
“When the overflowing scourge shall pass through,
it shall not come upon us.”
7. His mouth is full of cursing, and deceit, and malice: under his tongue are mischief and iniquity. 8. He will sit in the ensnaring places of the villages; in his lurking places will he murder the innocent: his eyes will take their aim against the poor. 9. He will lie in wait secretly, as a lion in his den; he will lie in wait to catch the poor; he will catch the poor by drawing him into his net. 10. He will crouch low, and cast himself down, and then shall an army of the afflicted fall by his strengths. 216
7. His mouth is full of cursing. The scope of these four verses is this: If God intends to succor his servants, it is now a proper time for doing so, inasmuch as the lawlessness of the ungodly has burst forth to the utmost possible excess. In the first place, he complains that their tongues are full of perjuries and deceits, and that they carry or hide mischief and wrongs, it being impossible to have any dealings with them in any matter without loss and damage. The word אלה, alah, which some render cursing, does not signify the execrations which they throw out against others, but rather those which they call down upon their own heads: for they do not scruple to utter the most awful imprecations against themselves, that thereby they may the better succeed in deceiving others. It is, therefore, not improperly rendered by some, perjury, for this word ought to be joined to the other two, deceit and malice. Thus the wicked are described as cursing or swearing falsely, so far as it contributes to forward their purposes of deceiving and doing injury. Hence follow mischief and injustice, because it is impossible for the simple, without suffering detriment, to escape their snares, which are woven of deceits, perjuries, and malice.
8. He will sit in the ensnaring places of the villages. 217 I have purposely avoided changing the verbs of the future tense into another tense, because they imply a continued act, and also because this Hebrew idiom has extended even to other languages. David, therefore, describes what ungodly men are accustomed to do. And, in the first place, he compares them to highwaymen, who lie in wait at the narrow parts of roads, and choose for themselves hiding-places from which they may fall upon travelers when off their guard. He says also, that their eyes are bent or leering, 218 by a similitude borrowed from the practice of dart-shooters, who take their aim with leering, or half shut eyes, in order to hit the mark the surer. Nor does he here speak of the common sort of highwaymen who are in the woods; 219 but he directs his language against those great robbers who hide their wickedness under titles of honor, and pomp, and splendor. The word חצרים, chatserim, therefore, which we have rendered villages, is by some translated palaces; as if David had said, they have converted their royal mansions into places of robbery, where they may cut the throats of their unhappy victims. But granting the word to have this allusion, I consider that it refers principally to the practice of robbers, to which there is a reference in the whole verse, and I explain it thus: Like as robbers lie in wait at the egresses of villages, so these persons lay their snares wherever they are.
In the next verse, he sets forth their cruelty in a light still more aggravated, by another comparison, saying, that they thirst for their prey like lions in their dens Now, it is a step higher in wickedness to equal in cruelty wild beasts than to make havoc after the manner of robbers. It is worthy of remark, that he always joins deceits and snares with violence, in order the better to show how miserable the children of God would be, unless they were succoured by help from heaven. There is also added another similitude, which expresses more clearly how craft in catching victims is mingled with cruelty. They catch them, says he but it is by drawing them into their net By these words he means, that they not only rush upon them with open force and violence, but that, at the same time also, they spread their nets in order to deceive.
He again repeats all this in the tenth verse, giving a beautiful and graphic description of the very mien or gesture of such wicked men, just as if he set before our eyes a picture of them. They crouch low, says he, and cast themselves down, 220 that they may not, by their cruelty, frighten away their victims to a distance; for they would fain catch in their entanglements those whom they cannot hurt without coming close to them. We see how he joins these two things together, first snares or gins, and then sudden violence, as soon as the prey has fallen into their hands. For, by the second clause, he means, that whenever they see the simple to be fully in their power, they rush upon them by surprise with a savage violence, just as if a lion should furiously rise from his couch to tear in pieces his prey. 221 The obvious meaning of the Psalmist is, that the ungodly are to be dreaded on all sides, because they dissemble their cruelty, till they find those caught in their toils whom they wish to devour. There is some obscurity in the words, to which we shall briefly advert. In the clause which we have rendered an army of the afflicted, the Hebrew word חלכאים, chelcaim, an army, in the opinion of some, is a word of four letters. 222 Those, however, think more accurately who hold it to be compound, and equivalent to two words. 223 Although, therefore, the verb נפל, naphal, is in the singular number, yet the prophet, doubtless, uses חל כאים, chel caim, collectively, to denote a great company of people who are afflicted by every one of these lions. I have rendered עצומימ, atsumim, his strengths, as if it were a substantive; because the prophet, doubtless, by this term, intends the talons and teeth of the lion, in which the strength of that beast chiefly consists. As, however, the word is properly an adjective in the plural number, signifying strong, without having any substantive with which it agrees, we may reasonably suppose that, by the talons and teeth of the lion, he means to express metaphorically a powerful body of soldiers. In short, the meaning is this: These wicked men hide their strength, by feigned humility and crafty courteous demeanour, and yet they will always have in readiness an armed band of satellites, or claws and teeth, as soon as an opportunity of doing mischief is presented to them.
11. He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten it: he hideth his face that he may never see it. 12. Arise, O Jehovah God, lift up thine hand: forget not the poor. 13. Why do the wicked despise God? He saith in his heart, Thou wilt not require it.
11. He hath said in his heart. The Psalmist again points out the source from which the presumption of the ungodly proceeds. Because God seems to take no notice of their wicked practices, they flatter themselves with the hope of escaping unpunished. As, however, they do not openly utter with their mouth the detestable blasphemy, that God hath forgotten their conduct, and hath shut his eyes that he may never see it, but hide their thoughts in the deep recesses of their own hearts, as Isaiah declares, (Isa 29:15) the Psalmist uses the same form of expression which he used before, and which he repeats a little after the third time, namely, that the ungodly say to themselves, in their hearts, that God takes no concern whatever in the affairs of men. And it is to be observed, that the ungodly, when all things happen to them according to their wishes, form such a judgment of their prosperity as to persuade themselves that God is in a manner bound or obliged to them. 224 Whence it comes to pass, that they live in a state of constant security, 225 because they do not reflect, that after God has long exercised patience towards them, they will undergo a solemn reckoning, and that their condemnation will be the more terrible, the greater the long-suffering of God.
12. Arise, O Jehovah. It is a disease under which men in general labor, to imagine, according to the judgment of the flesh, that when God does not execute his judgments, he is sitting idle, or lying at ease. There is, however, a great difference with respect to this between the faithful and the wicked. The latter cherish the false opinion which is dictated by the weakness of the flesh, and in order to soothe and flatter themselves in their vices, they indulge in slumbering, and render their conscience stupid, 226 until at length, through their wicked obstinacy, they harden themselves into a gross contempt of God. But the former soon shake from their minds that false imagination, and chastise themselves, returning of their own accord to a due consideration of what is the truth on this subject. 227 Of this we have here set before us a striking example. By speaking of God after the manner of men, the prophet declares that the same error which he has just now condemned in the despisers of God had gradually stolen in upon his own mind. But he proceeds at once to correct it, and resolutely struggles with himself, and restrains his mind from forming such conceptions of God, as would reflect dishonor upon his righteousness and glory. It is therefore a temptation to which all men are naturally prone, to begin to doubt of the providence of God, when his hand and judgment are not seen. The godly, however, differ widely from the wicked. The former, by means of faith, check this apprehension of the flesh; while the latter indulge themselves in their froward imagination. Thus David, by the word Arise, does not so much stir up God, as he awakens himself, or endeavors to awaken himself, to hope for more of the assistance of God than he presently experienced. Accordingly, this verse contains the useful doctrine, that the more the ungodly harden themselves, through their slothful ignorance, and endeavor to persuade themselves that God takes no concern about men and their affairs, and will not punish the wickedness which they commit, the more should we endeavor to be persuaded of the contrary; yes, rather their ungodliness ought to incite us vigorously to repel the doubts which they not only admit, but studiously frame for themselves.
13. Why doth the wicked despise God? It is, indeed, superfluous to bring arguments before God, for the purpose of persuading him to grant us what we ask; but still he permits us to make use of them, and to speak to him in prayer, as familiarly as a son speaks to an earthly father. It should always be observed, that the use of praying is, that God may be the witness of all our affections; not that they would otherwise be hidden from him, but when we pour out our hearts before him, our cares are hereby greatly lightened, and our confidence of obtaining our requests increases. Thus David, in the present passage, by setting before himself how unreasonable and intolerable it would be for the wicked to be allowed to despise God according to their pleasure, thinking he will never bring them to an account, 228 was led to cherish the hope of deliverance from his calamities. The word which is here rendered despise, is the same as that which he had used before. Some translate it to provoke, and others to blaspheme. But the signification which I have preferred certainly agrees much better with the context; for when persons take from God the power and office of judging, this is ignominiously to drag him from his throne, and to degrade him, as it were, to the station of a private individual. 229 Moreover, as David had a little before complained that the ungodly deny the existence of a God, or else imagine him to be constantly asleep, having no care about mankind, so now he complains to the same purpose that they say, God will not require it.
14. Thou hast seen it; for thou considerest mischief and vexation, 230 that thou mayest take the matter into thine own hand: upon thee shall the poor leave, for thou wilt be the helper of the fatherless. 15. Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man; thou shalt seek his wickedness, and shalt not find it.
14. Thou hast seen it; for thou, etc Here David, suddenly kindled with a holy zeal, enters into conflict, and, armed with the shield of faith, courageously repels these execrable opinions; but as he could derive no advantage by making his appeal to men, he has recourse to God, and addresses him. As the ungodly, in the hope of enjoying unrestrained license in the commission of all kinds of wickedness, withdraw to the greatest possible distance from God, 231 and through the dictates of a perverse mind, imagine themselves to be far beyond his reach; so, on the contrary, the faithful ought carefully to keep themselves aloof from those wild opinions, which are afloat in the world, and with minds lifted upward, to speak to God as if present with them. Accordingly, David, in order to prevent himself from being overcome by the blasphemies of men, very properly turns away his attention from them. There is added a reason in confirmation of the first sentence of the verse, namely, because God considers mischief and vexation Since it is the peculiar province of God to take cognisance of all wrongs, David concludes that it is impossible for God to shut his eyes when the ungodly are recklessly and without restraint committing their outrages. Moreover, he descends from the general to the particular, which ought to be attentively marked: for nothing is easier than to acknowledge in general terms that God exercises a care about the world, and the affairs of men; but it is very difficult to apply this doctrine to its various uses in every-day life. And yet, all that the Scripture says concerning the power and righteousness of God will be of no advantage to us, and, as it were, only matter of meagre speculation, 232 unless every one apply these statements to himself, as his necessity may require. Let us therefore learn, from the example of David, to reason thus: that, since it belongs to God to take notice of all the mischief and injuries which are inflicted on the good and simple, He considers our trouble and sorrows even when he seems for a time to take no notice of them. The Psalmist also adds, that God does not look down from heaven upon the conduct of men here below as an idle and unconcerned spectator, but that it is his work to pass judgment upon it; for to take the matter into his own hand, is nothing else than duly and effectually to examine and determine it as a judge.
It is, however, our duty to wait patiently so long as vengeance is reserved in the hand of God, until he stretch forth his arm to help us. We see, therefore, the reason why it is immediately added, Upon thee shall the poor leave. By these words David means, that we ought to give the providence of God time to manifest itself. The godly, when they are afflicted, may with confidence cast their cares into his bosom, and commit themselves to his protection. They ought not, however, to be in haste for the accomplishment of their wishes; but, being now disburdened, they should take their breath till God manifestly declare that the fit time of interfering in their behalf is come. The man, therefore, leaves upon God who betakes himself to his protection, and who, fully persuaded of his faithfulness in keeping what is entrusted to him, quietly waits till the fit time of his deliverance come. Some read the verb passively, The poor shall be left upon thee. The first reading, however, is more correct, and it agrees with the rules of grammar; only it is a defective form of expression, inasmuch as the thing which the poor leaves is not expressed. But this defect is common in Hebrew; and there is no obscurity in the thing itself, namely, that, when the godly commit themselves and their concerns to God by prayer, their prayers will not be in vain; for these two clauses are closely connected, Upon thee shall the poor leave, and, Thou shalt be a helper to the fatherless By a metaphor he terms the person fatherless whom he had in the preceding clause called poor. And the verb being in the future tense denotes a continued act.
15. Break thou the arm. This form of expression just means breaking the power of the wicked. And it is not simply a prayer; it may also be regarded as a prophecy. As the ungovernable fury of our enemies very often makes us lose courage, as if there were no means by which it could be restrained, David, in order to support his faith, and preserve it from failing through the fears which presented themselves, sets before himself the consideration, that whenever it shall please God to break the power of the ungodly, he will bring to nothing both themselves and all their schemes. To make the meaning the more evident, the sentence may be explained in this way, — Lord, as soon as it shall seem good to thee to break the arm of the wicked, thou wilt destroy him in a moment, and bring to nought his powerful and violent efforts in the work of doing mischief. David, indeed, beseeches God to hasten his assistance and his vengeance; but, in the meantime, while these are withheld, he sustains himself by the consolatory reflection, that the ungodly cannot break forth into violence and mischief except in so far as God permits them; since it is in his power, whenever he ascends into the judgment-seat, to destroy them even with his look alone. And certainly, as the rising sun dissipates the clouds and vapours by his heat, and clears up the dark air, so God, when he stretches forth his hand to execute the office of a Judge, restores to tranquillity and order all the troubles and confusions of the world. The Psalmist calls the person of whom he speaks not only wicked, but the wicked and the evil man, and he does so, in my judgment, for the purpose of setting forth in a stronger light the greatness of the wickedness of the character which he describes. His words are as if he had said, Wicked men may even be frantic in their malice and impiety; but God can promptly and effectually remedy this evil whenever he pleases.
16. Jehovah is King for ever and ever: the heathen are perished out of his land. 17. Thou hast heard the desire of the needy, O Jehovah: thou, wilt direct 233 their hearts, and thine ear shall hear them. 18. To judge the fatherless and the poor, that the man who is of earth may no more terrify them.
16. Jehovah is King for ever and ever. David now, as if he had obtained the desires of his heart, rises up to holy rejoicing and thanksgiving. When he calls God King for ever and ever, it is a token of his confidence and joy. By the title of King, he vindicates God’s claim to the government of the world, and when he describes him as King for ever and ever, this shows how absurd it is to think to shut him up within the narrow limits of time. As the course of human life is short, even those who sway the scepter over the greatest empires, being but mortal men, very often disappoint the expectations of their servants, 234 as we are taught in Ps. 146:3, 4,
“Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.”
Often the power of giving assistance to others fails them, and while they are delaying to give it, the opportunity slips away from them. But we ought to entertain more exalted and honorable conceptions of our heavenly King; for although he does not immediately execute his judgments, yet he has always the full and the perfect power of doing so. In short, he reigns, not for himself in particular; it is for us that he reigns for ever and ever. As this, then, is the duration of his reign, it follows that a long delay cannot hinder him from stretching forth his hand in due season to succor his people, even when they are, as it were, dead, or in a condition which, to the eye of sense and reason, is hopeless. — The heathen are perished out of the land The meaning is, that the holy land was at length purged from the abominations and impurities with which it had been polluted. It was a dreadful profanation, when the land which had been given for an inheritance to the people of God, and allotted to those who purely worshipped him, nourished ungodly and wicked inhabitants. By the heathen he does not mean foreigners, and such as did not belong to the race of Abraham according to the flesh, 235 but hypocrites, who falsely boasted that they belonged to the people of God, just as at this day many, who are Christians only in name, occupy a place in the bosom of the Church. It is no new thing for the prophets to call apostates, who have degenerated from the virtues and holy lives of their fathers, by the reproachful name of heathen, and to compare them not only to the uncircumcised, but also to the Canaanites, who were the most detestable among all the heathen.
“Thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite,” (Eze 16:3)
Many other similar passages are to be met with in Scripture. David, therefore, in applying the dishonorable name of heathen to the false and bastard children of Abraham, gives God thanks for having expelled such a corrupt class out of his Church. By this example we are taught, that it is no new thing if we see in our own day the Church of God polluted by profane and irreligious men. We ought, however, to beseech God quickly to purge his house, and not leave his holy temple exposed to the desecration of swine and dogs, as if it were a dunghill.
17. O Jehovah, thou hast heard the desire of the needy. In these words the prophet confirms what I have just now said, that when hypocrites prevail in the Church, or exceed the faithful in number, we ought, unceasingly, to beseech God to root them out; for such a confused and shameful state of things ought surely to be matter of deep grief to all the true servants of God. By these words, also, the Holy Spirit assures us, that what of old God granted to the fathers in answer to their prayers, we at the present day will obtain, provided we have that anxious solicitude about the deliverance of the Church which we ought to entertain. The clause which follows, Thou wilt direct their hearts, is variously interpreted by expositors. Some think it signifies the same thing, as if it had been said, Thou wilt give success to their desires. According to others, the meaning is, Thou wilt frame and sanctify their hearts by thy grace, that they may ask nothing in prayer but what is right and according to the divine will, as Paul teaches us that the Holy Spirit
“stirs up within us groanings which cannot be uttered,” (Ro 8:26)
Both these expositions are perhaps too forced. David, in this clause, magnifies the grace of God in sustaining and comforting his servants in the midst of their troubles and distresses, that they may not sink into despondency, — in furnishing them with fortitude and patience, - in inspiring them with good hope, - and in stirring them up also to prayer. This is the import of the verb כין, Kin, which signifies not only to direct, but also to establish. It is a singular blessing which God confers upon us, when, in the midst of temptation, he upholds our hearts, and does not suffer them to recede from him, or to turn aside to any other quarter for support and deliverance. The meaning of the clause which immediately follows, Thou wilt cause thine ear to hear, is, that it is not in vain that God directs the hearts of his people, and leads them, in obedience to his command, to look to Himself, and to call upon him in hope and patience — it is not in vain, because his ears are never shut against their groanings. Thus the mutual harmony between two religious exercises is here commended. God does not suffer the faith of his servants to faint or fail, nor does he suffer them to desist from praying; but he keeps them near him by faith and prayer, until it actually appear that their hope has been neither vain nor ineffectual. The sentence might, not improperly, be rendered thus: Thou shalt establish their heart, until thine ear hear them.
18. That thou mayest judge. Here the Psalmist applies the last sentence of the preceding verse to a special purpose, namely, to prevent the faithful, when they are unjustly oppressed, from doubting that God will at length take vengeance on their enemies, and grant them deliverance. By these words he teaches us, that we ought to bear with patience and fortitude the crosses and afflictions which are laid upon us, since God often withholds assistance from his servants until they are reduced to extremity. This is, indeed, a duty of difficult performance, for we would all desire to be entirely exempted from trouble; and, therefore, if God does not quickly come to our relief, we think him remiss and inactive. But if we are anxiously desirous of obtaining his assistance, we must subdue our passion, restrain our impatience, and keep our sorrows within due bounds, waiting until our afflictions call forth the exercise of his compassion, and excite him to manifest his grace in succouring us.
That the man who is of earth may no more terrify them. David again commends the power of God in destroying the ungodly; and he does it for this purpose, - that in the midst of their tumultuous assaults we may have this principle deeply fixed in our minds, that God, whenever he pleases, can bring all their attempts to nothing. Some understand the verb ארף, arots, which we have translated to terrify, as neuter, and read the words thus, — that mortal man may be no more afraid. But it agrees better with the scope of the passage to render it transitively, as we have done. And although the wicked prosper in their wicked course, and lift up their heads above the clouds, there is much truth in describing them as mortal, or men liable to many calamities. The design of the Psalmist is indirectly to condemn their infatuated presumption, in that, forgetful of their condition, they breathe out cruel and terrible threatenings, as if it were beyond the power of even God himself to repress the violence of their rage. The phrase, of earth, contains a tacit contrast between the low abode of this world and the height of heaven. For whence do they go forth to assault the children of God? Doubtless, from the earth, just as if so many worms should creep out of the crevices of the ground; but in so doing, they attack God himself, who promises help to his servants from heaven.
“et tu caches au temps que sommes en tribulation?” — Fr. “And hidest thyself when we are in trouble?” — Hebrews “Aux opportunitez, ou, aux temps opportuns.” — Fr. marg. “In opportunities, or, at seasonable times.”
“Ou, le poure est persecute, ou, il brusle en l’orgueil des meschans.” — Fr. marg. “Or, the poor is persecuted; or, he burns in the pride of the wicked.”
Horsley reads “subtleties,” and observes in a note, “I choose this ambiguous word; being in doubt whether the petition against the wicked be that they may be ruined by their own stratagems against the righteous, or that they may be the dupes of their own atheistical speculations upon moral and religious subjects. It seems to me that the word מזמות, may signify either ‘crafty tricks,’ or ‘refined theories,’ and, in this latter sense, it is used in the fourth verse.” Horsley considers this psalm as a general description of the oppression of the righteous by apostate spirits, atheists, and idolaters, who have all conspired against them, and not as referring to any particular calamity of the Jewish nation, or of any individual.
“C’est quand nous attribuons a Dieu les passions, affections, et fatOhs de faire des hommes.” — Fr. marg. “That is, when we attribute to God the passions, affections, and manners of men.”
“Pour faire vengence.” — Fr.
“En se mocquant d’eux et les outrageant.” — Fr.
דלק, dalak, signifies two things, to persecute, and to be set on fire; and though we render it in the former sense, and so apply it to רשע, rasha, the wicked, in the active tense, — the wicked persecutes the poor, yet the ancient interpreters generally render it in the passive, and apply it to עני, anay, the poor, that in the pride of the wicked he is set on fire, that is, brought into great tribulation.” — Hammond. The word used by the Septuagint is ἐμπυριζέται. There may be an allusion in the Hebrew word to the fires which persecutors have kindled for burning to death the confessors and martyrs of Christ.
“In altitudine naris;” — literally, “In the height of his nose.” This also is the literal rendering of the Hebrew text, “The nose and casting up of it signifies a proud, scornful, and sometimes an angry countenance.” — Ainsworth.
“Il y a mot en mot, Car louis le meschant et il y faut, suppleer quelque petit mot: or, cela on y besongne diversement.” — Fr.
“On la repete pour patnaire le sense.” — Fr.
“Es s’osent bien absoudre et tenir pour innocens.” — Fr.
“Cependant qu’il se sent coulpable et adonne k mM faire.” — Fr.
The sentence in the Hebrew text is elliptical, and hence it has been variously translated. Literally it is, “No God all his thoughts.” The Syriac version renders it, “There is no God in all his thoughts.” The Septuagint reads, Οὐκ ἔστιν ὁ θεὸς ἐνώπιον αὐτου, “God is not before him.” Mudge renders it, “No God is all his wicked politics;” Horsley, “No God is the whole of his philosophy.” and Fry, “There is no Elohim is all his thought.”
“Qui nous le fait avoir en reverence et nous tient le subjets.” — Fr.
“Pour meschantes et malicieuses pensees.” — Fr. “Wicked and malicious thoughts.”
The Greek word which they use is Βεβηλουνται,. Aben Ezra’s rendering is, “His ways always cause terror.”
“Apres qu’il ent pilld le temple de Proserpine.” — Fr.
Vale. lib. 1, chapter 2.
“Pource que se confians de la longue distance qui est entre Dieu et eux.” — Fr.
“Car nous voyons comme delayans le temps, il s’endureissent et obstinent au mal de plus en plus.” — Fr.
“En l’esperance de jamais ne venir le conte.” — Fr. “In the hope of never being called to account.”
“Font a croire qu’il est au ciel, on il se donne du bon temps sans se soucier de ce qu’il se fait yci bas.” — Fr.
Ps. 3:7, Ps. 23:4, Ps. 27:3, etc. — Fr.
“Il ose dire hardiment qu’il ne redoute nuls dangers et les desfie tous.” — Fr. “He courageously declares that he is not afraid of any dangers, and defies them all.”
“Et se fait a croire qu’il sera tousjours a son aise et repos.” — Fr.
“Toutesfois pource qu’il s’appuye du tout sur la grace de Dieu, et s’y confie, porte patienment toutes molestes et ennuis et se console en ses afflictions.” — Fr.
“Se retirent de bonne heure vers la grace de Dieu pour se mettre au sauvete comme en un lien de refuge et asseurance.”— Fr. “Betake themselves with all haste to the grace of God, to put themselves in safety as in a place of refuge and security.”
“Au bruit des fueilles qui tombent des arbres.” — Fr. “At the noise of leaves falling from the trees.”
“Ou, par ses forts, asavoir membres.” — Fr. “Or, by his strong members.” That is, his teeth, or claws. The adjective for strong, in the original, is in the plural, and there is no substantive with which it agrees. We have examples of a similar ellipsis in other parts of Scripture. Thus in 2Sa 21:16, we have new, for a new sword; and in Ps 73:10, full, for a full cup; and in Mt 10:42, cold, for cold water. — Poole’s Annotations.
Horsley renders the eighth verse thus:
“He sitteth in ambush* in the villages in secret places;
He murdereth the innocent;
his eyes are ever watching for the helpless.”
And he has the following note: ”Symmachus and St Jerome certainly read thus ישכ מארב בחצרים, and they both render, ה, as a participle. ‘He sitteth prowling about the farm-houses.’ This I take to be the true reading and the true rendering. The image is that of a beast of prey of the lesser order, a fox or a wolf, lying upon the watch about the farm-yard in the evening.”
*Or, “he sitteth prowling about the farmyard.”
Bishop Mant reads “peering eyes.” Concerning the word, says he, “which I have rendered peering, Parkhurst says that it is applied to winking or half closing the eyes in order to see more distinctly. The Septuagint and Vulgate translations, which mean look at, behold, give the general sense, but not the beautiful image expressed in the Hebrew.”
“Qui sont parmi les bois.” — Fr
The allusion is to the practice of the lion, who, when he intends to seize upon his prey, crouches, or lies down, and gathers himself together, both to conceal himself, and that he may make the greater spring upon his prey when it comes within his reach, (Job 38:39, 40.)
“Comme si un lion sortant de son giste se levoit furieusement pour mettre sa proye par pieces.” — Fr. “As if a lion issuing from his den, furiously raised himself to spring upon his prey, and to tear it to pieces.” “When the lion” says Buffon “leaps up on his prey, he gives a spring of ten or fifteen feet, falls on, seizes it with his fore-paws, tears it with his claws, and afterwards devours it with his teeth.”
Being the plural of, חלכה, chelcah, which occurs three times in this psalm, namely, here and in the eighth and fourteenth verses, where it is rendered poor.
Namely, חל כאים chel caim. Those who adopt this reading observe, that according to the other view, the verb נפל, naphal, translated may fall, which is singular, is joined with a plural noun, חלכאים chelcaim, but that, by dividing this last word into two, we get a singular nominative to the verb. Hammond, however, who adopts the first opinion, observes, “That it is an elegance, both in the Hebrew and Arabic, to use the verb singular with the nominative plural, especially when the verb is placed first, as here it is;” and, therefore, he denies the validity of that objection against the ordinary rendering.
“Or il faut noter que les meschans voyans que tout leur vient ‘X souchair sont tellement estat de leur prosperite, qu’ils se sont a croire que Dieu est aucunement obligd a eux.” — Fr.
“Qu’ils vivent sans crainte ne souci de l’advenir.” — Fr. “That they live without any fear or concern about the future.”
“Et prenent plaisir kassop et rendre leur conscience stupide, afin de se flatter en leurs vices.” — Fr.
“Retournans d’eux mesmes a bien considerer ce qui enest a la verite.” — Fr.
“A leur plaisir n’estimans pas que jamais il les amenast le conte.” — Fr.
“Au rang des hommes.” — Fr. “To the rank of men.”
“Oppression.” — Fr.
“Se reeulent le plus loin de Dieu qu’ils peuvent.” — Fr.
“Sera de nulle utilite et comme un speculation maigre.” — Fr.
“Ou, fortifieras.” — Fr. marg. “Or, thou wilt strengthen or establish.”
“Bien souvent frustrent leurs serviteurs de leur attente.” — Fr.
“Et des personnes qui ne fussent de la race d’Abraham selon la chair.” — Fr.