Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 8: Psalms, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
This psalm consists of meditations mingled with prayers. Being rudely treated, and grievously distressed, by the cruelty of his enemies, David, in order to obtain assistance from God, first acknowledges that God had justly made use of this as a means of chastising and punishing him for his sins; and, therefore, he prays for their forgiveness, that he may at once enjoy assurance of the divine favor, and obtain deliverance. He then implores the aid of the Holy Spirit, that, sustained by it, he might, even in the midst of so many temptations, continue in the fear of God. And in various places he intermingles meditation, as the means of stirring up himself to increased confidence in God, and of withdrawing his thoughts from the allurements of the world.
A Psalm of David.
1. Unto thee, O Jehovah! I have lifted up my soul 2. O my God! I have put my trust in thee; let me not be ashamed; let not mine enemies rejoice over me. 3. Yea, none of those that wait on thee shall be ashamed; but they shall be ashamed that deal falsely without cause.
1. Unto thee, O Jehovah! etc The Psalmist declares at the very outset, that he is not driven hither and thither, after the manner of the ungodly, but that he directs all his desires and prayers to God alone. Nothing is more inconsistent with true and sincere prayer to God, than to waver and gaze about as the heathen do, for some help from the world; and at the same time to forsake God, or not to betake ourselves directly to his guardianship and protection. Those who imagine that David here declares that he had devoted himself entirely to God, as if he had offered up himself in sacrifice, do not properly understand the import of the passage. The meaning rather is, that in order to strengthen the hope of obtaining his request, he declares, what is of the greatest importance in prayer, that he had his hope fixed in God, and that he was not ensnared by the allurements of the world, or prevented from lifting up his soul fully and unfeignedly to God. In order, therefore, that we may pray aright to God, let us be directed by this rule — not to distract our minds by various and uncertain hopes, nor to depend on worldly aid, but to yield to God the honor of lifting up our hearts to him in sincere and earnest prayer. Moreover, although the verb is properly rendered, I will lift up, yet I have followed other interpreters in changing it into the past tense, I have lifted up By the future tense, however, David denotes a continued act.
2. O my God! I have put my trust in thee. By this verse we learn, (what will appear more clearly afterwards,) that David had to do with men; but as he was persuaded that his enemies were, as it were, the scourges of God, he with good reason asks that God would restrain them by his power, lest they should become more insolent, and continue, to exceed all bounds. By the word trust he confirms what he had just said of the lifting up of his soul to God; for the term is employed either as descriptive of the way in which the souls of the faithful are lifted up, or else faith and hope are added as the cause of such an effect, namely, the lifting up of the soul. And, indeed, these are the wings by which our souls, rising above this world, are lifted up to God. David, then, was carried upward to God with the whole desire of his heart, because, trusting to his promises, he thereby hoped for sure salvation. When he asks that God would not suffer him to be put to shame, he offers up a prayer which is taken from the ordinary doctrine of Scripture, namely, that they who trust in God shall never be ashamed. The reason which is added, and which he here pleads, to induce God to have pity upon him, ought also to be noticed. It is this, that he might not be exposed to the derision of his enemies, whose pride is no less hurtful to the feelings of the godly than it is displeasing to God.
3. Yea, none of those, etc. If these words should be explained in the form of a desire, as if David had said, Let none who wait on thee be put to shame, 553 then, in this verse, he continues his prayer, and extends to all the faithful in common what he had spoken of himself alone. But I am rather inclined to understand the words in a different sense, and to view them as meaning that David shows the fruit of divine grace which should proceed from his deliverance. And there is peculiar force in the word yea; for as he knew that he was seen by many, and that the report of his confidence in God was widely spread, his meaning is, that what shall be done in his person shall extend far and wide, as an example to others, and shall have the effect of reviving and animating all the children of God, on the one hand, and of casting to the ground the arrogance of the wicked, on the other. The words might also be understood in another sense, namely, that David, for the strengthening of his faith, sets before himself a promise which God frequently makes in his word. But the sense in which I have interpreted them seems to be more suitable. By the wicked that deal falsely without cause, he no doubt means especially his enemies. Accordingly, he declares that when he is delivered he will not enjoy exclusively the benefit of it; but that its fruit shall extend to all true believers; just as on the other hand, the faith of many would have been shaken if he had been forsaken of God. In the last clause of the verse, which he puts in opposition to the first, he argues that when the wicked lie confounded, it redounds to the glory of God, because the vaunting in which they indulge in their prosperity is an open mockery of God, while, in despite of his judgment, they break forth more boldly in doing evil. When he adds, without cause, it only tends to show the aggravated nature of the offense. The wickedness of a man is always the more intolerable, when, unprovoked by wrongs, he sets himself, of his own accord, to injure the innocent and blameless.
4. O Jehovah! make me to know thy ways, and teach me thy paths. 5. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me; for thou art the God of my salvation: I have waited for thee all the day. 6. Remember, O Jehovah! thy tender mercies and thy loving-kindnesses, for they have been from everlasting. 7. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy compassion, and for the sake of thy goodness, O Jehovah! do thou remember me.
4. O Jehovah! make me to know thy ways. By the ways of the Lord, David sometimes means, as we have seen in another place, the happy and prosperous issue of affairs, but more frequently he uses this expression to denote the rule of a holy and righteous life. As the term truth occurs in the immediately following verse, the prayer which he offers up in this place is, in my opinion, to this effect: Lord, keep thy servant in the firm persuasion of thy promises, and do not suffer him to turn aside to the right hand or to the left. When our minds are thus composed to patience, we undertake nothing rashly or by improper means, but depend wholly upon the providence of God. Accordingly, in this place David desires not merely to be directed by the Spirit of God, lest he should err from the right way, but also that God would clearly manifest to him his truth and faithfulness in the promises of his word, that he might live in peace before him, and be free from all impatience. 554 If any one would rather take the words in a general sense, as if David committed himself wholly to God to be governed by him, I do not object to it. As, however, I think it probable, that, under the name of truth in the next verse, he explains what he means by the ways and paths of God, of which he here speaks, I have no hesitation in referring the prayer to this circumstance, namely, that David, afraid of yielding to the feeling of impatience, or the desire of revenge, or some extravagant and unlawful impulse, asks that the promises of God may be deeply impressed and engraven on his heart. For I have said before, that as long as this thought prevails in our minds, that God takes care of us, it is the best and most powerful means for resisting temptations. If, however, by the ways and paths of God, any would rather understand his doctrine, I, nevertheless, still hold this as a settled point, that in the language of the Psalmist there is an allusion to those sudden and irregular emotions which arise in our minds when we are tossed by adversity, and by which we are precipitated into the devious and deceitful paths of error, till they are in due time subdued or allayed by the word of God. Thus the meaning is, Whatever may happen, suffer me not, O Lord, to fall from thy ways, or to be carried away by a wilful disobedience to thy authority, or any other sinful desire; but rather let thy truth preserve me in a state of quiet repose and peace, by an humble submission to it. Moreover, although he frequently repeats the same thing, asking that God would make him to know his ways, and teach him in them, and lead him in his truth, there is no redundancy in these forms of speech. Our adversities are often like mists which darken the eyes; and every one knows from his own experience how difficult a thing it is, while these clouds of darkness continue, to discern in what way we ought to walk. But if David, so distinguished a prophet and endued with so much wisdom, stood in need of divine instruction, what shall become of us if, in our afflictions, God dispel not from our minds those clouds of darkness which prevent us from seeing his light? As often, then, as any temptation may assail us, we ought always to pray that God would make the light of his truth to shine upon us, lest, by having recourse to sinful devices, we should go astray, and wander into devious and forbidden paths.
At the same time, we ought to observe the argument which David here employs to enforce his prayer. By calling God the God of his salvation, he does so in order to strengthen his hope in God for the future, from a consideration of the benefits which he had already received from him; and then he repeats the testimony of his confidence towards God. Thus the first part of the argument is taken from the nature of God himself, and the duty which, as it were, belongs to him; that is to say, because he engages to maintain the welfare of the godly, and aids them in their necessities, on this ground, that he will continue to manifest the same favor towards them even to the end. But as it is necessary that our confidence in God should correspond to his great goodness towards us, David alleges it, at the same time, in connection with a declaration of his perseverance. For, by the expression all the day, or every day, he signifies that with a fixed and untiring constancy he depended upon God alone. And, doubtless, it is the property of faith always to look to God, even in the most trying circumstances, and patiently to wait for the aid which he has promised. That the recollection of the divine blessings may nourish and sustain our hope, let us learn to reflect upon the goodness which God has already manifested towards us, as we see that David did in making this the ground of his confidence, that he had found in his own personal experience God to be the author of salvation.
6. Remember, O Jehovah; From this it appears, in the first place, that David was grievously afflicted and tried, so much so that he had lost all sense of God’s mercy: for he calls upon God to remember for him his favor, in such a manner as if he had altogether forgotten it. This, therefore, is the complaint of a man suffering extreme anguish, and overwhelmed with grief. We may learn from this, that although God, for a time, may withdraw from us every token of his goodness, and, apparently regardless of the miseries which afflict us, should, as if we were strangers to him, and not his own people, forsake us, we must fight courageously, until, set free from this temptation, we cordially present the prayer which is here recorded, beseeching God, that, returning to his former manner of dealing, he would again begin to manifest his goodness towards us, and to deal with us in a more gracious manner. This form of prayer cannot be used with propriety, unless when God is hiding his face from us, and seems to take no interest at all in us. Moreover David, by having recourse to the mercy or compassion and goodness of God, testifies that he trusts not to his own merit as any ground of hope. He who derives every thing from the fountain of divine mercy alone, finds nothing in himself entitled to recompense in the sight of God. But as the intermission which David had experienced was an obstacle which prevented his free access to God, he rises above it, by the very best remedy — the consideration, that although God, who from his very nature is merciful, may withdraw himself, and cease for a time to manifest his power, yet he cannot deny himself; that is to say, he cannot divest himself of the feeling of mercy which is natural to him, and which can no more cease than his eternal existence. But we must firmly maintain this doctrine, that God has been merciful even from the beginning, so that if at any time he seem to act with severity towards us, and to reject our prayers, we must not imagine that he acts contrary to his real character, or that he has changed his purpose. Hence we learn for what end it is that the Scriptures every where inform us, that in all ages God has regarded his servants with a benignant eye, and exercised his mercy towards them. 555 This, at least, we ought to regard as a fixed and settled point, that although the goodness of God may sometimes be hidden, and as it were buried out of sight, it can never be extinguished.
7. Remember not the sins of my youth. As our sins are like a wall between us and God, which prevents him from hearing our prayers, or stretching forth his hand to help us, David now removes this obstruction. It is indeed true, in general, that men pray in a wrong way, and in vain, unless they begin by seeking the forgiveness of their sins. There is no hope of obtaining any favor from God unless he is reconciled to us. How shall he love us unless he first freely reconcile us to himself? The right and proper order of prayer therefore is, as I have said, to ask, at the very outset, that God would pardon our sins. David here acknowledges, in explicit terms, that he cannot in any other way become a partaker of the grace of God than by having his sins blotted out. In order, therefore, that God may be mindful of his mercy towards us, it is necessary that he forget our sins, the very sight of which turns away his favor from us. In the meantime, the Psalmist confirms by this more clearly what I have already said, that although the wicked acted towards him with cruelty, and persecuted him unjustly, yet he ascribed to his own sins all the misery which he endured. For why should he ask the forgiveness of his sins, by having recourse to the mercy of God, but because he acknowledged, that by the cruel treatment he received from his enemies, he only suffered the punishment which he justly merited? He has, therefore, acted wisely in turning his thoughts to the first cause of his misery, that he may find out the true remedy; and thus he teaches us by his example, that when any outward affliction presses upon us, we must entreat God not only to deliver us from it, but also to blot out our sins, by which we have provoked his displeasure, and subjected ourselves to his chastening rod. If we act otherwise, we shall follow the example of unskilful physicians, who, overlooking the cause of the disease, only seek to alleviate the pain, and apply merely adventitious remedies for the cure. Moreover, David makes confession not only of some slight offenses, as hypocrites are wont to do, who, by confessing their guilt in a general and perfunctory manner, either seek some subterfuge, or else extenuate the enormity of their sin; but he traces back his sins even to his very childhood, and considers in how many ways he had provoked the wrath of God against him. When he makes mention of the sins which he had committed in his youth, he does not mean by this that he had no remembrance of any of the sins which he had committed in his later years; but it is rather to show that he considered himself worthy of so much the greater condemnation. 556 In the first place, considering that he had not begun only of late to commit sin, but that he had for a long time heaped up sin upon sin, he bows himself, if we may so speak, under the accumulated load; and, in the second place, he intimates, that if God should deal with him according to the rigour of law, not only the sins of yesterday, or of a few days, would come into judgment against him, but all the instances in which he had offended, even from his infancy, might now with justice be laid to his charge. As often, therefore, as God terrifies us by his judgments and the tokens of his wrath, let us call to our remembrance, not only the sins which we have lately committed, but also all the transgressions of our past life, proving to us the ground of renewed shame and renewed lamentation. Besides, in order to express more fully that he supplicates a free pardon, he pleads before God only on the ground of his mere good pleasure; and therefore he says, According to thy compassion do thou remember me When God casts our sins into oblivion, this leads him to behold us with fatherly regard. David can discover no other cause by which to account for this paternal regard of God, but that he is good, and hence it follows that there is nothing to induce God to receive us into his favor but his own good pleasure. When God is said to remember us according to his mercy, we are tacitly given to understand that there are two ways of remembering which are entirely opposite; the one when he visits sinners in his wrath, and the other when he again manifests his favor to those of whom he seemed for a time to take no account.
8. Good and upright is Jehovah; therefore will he teach sinners in the way. 9. He will guide the poor in judgment, and will teach the poor 557 his way. 10. All the ways of Jehovah are mercy and truth, to those who keep his covenant and his testimony. 11. For thy name’s sake, O Jehovah! be thou merciful to mine iniquity, for it is great.
8. Good and upright is Jehovah. Pausing for a little as it were in the prosecution of his prayer, he exercises his thoughts in meditation upon the goodness of God, that he may return with renewed ardor to prayer. The faithful feel that their hearts soon languish in prayer, unless they are constantly stirring themselves up to it by new incitements; so rare and difficult a thing is it to persevere steadfastly and unweariedly in this duty. And, indeed, as one must frequently lay on fuel in order to preserve a fire, so the exercise of prayer requires the aid of such helps, that it may not languish, and at length be entirely extinguished. David, therefore, desirous to encourage himself to perseverance, speaks to himself, and affirms that God is good and upright, that, gathering new strength by meditating on this truth, he may return with the more alacrity to prayer. But we must observe this consequence — that as God is good and upright, he stretches forth his hand to sinners to bring them back again into the way. To attribute to God an uprightness which he may exercise only towards the worthy and the meritorious, is a cold view of his character, and of little advantage to sinners, and yet the world commonly apprehends that God is good in no other sense. How comes it to pass that scarcely one in a hundred applies to himself the mercy of God, if it is not because men limit it to those who are worthy of it? No on the contrary, it is here said, that God gives a proof of his uprightness when he shows to transgressors the way; and this is of the same import as to call them to repentance, and to teach them to live uprightly. And, indeed, if the goodness of God did not penetrate even to hell, no man would ever become a partaker of it. Let the Papists then boast as they please of their imaginary preparations, but let us regard this as a sure and certain doctrine, that if God do not prevent men by his grace, they shall all utterly perish. David, therefore, here commends this preventing grace, as it is called, which is manifested either when God in calling us at first renews, by the Spirit of regeneration, our corrupt nature, or when he brings us back again into the right way, after we have gone astray from him by our sins. For since even those whom God receives for his disciples are here called sinners, it follows that he renews them by his Holy Spirit that they may become docile and obedient.
9. He will guide the poor in judgment. The Psalmist here specifies the second manifestation of his grace which God makes towards those who, being subdued by his power, and brought under his yoke, bear it willingly, and submit themselves to his government. But never will this docility be found in any man, until the heart, which is naturally elated and filled with pride, has been humbled and subdued. As the Hebrew word ענוים, anavim, denotes the poor or afflicted, and is employed in a metaphorical sense, to denote the meek and humble, it is probable that David, under this term, includes the afflictions which serve to restrain and subdue the frowardness of the flesh, as well as the grace of humility itself; as if he had said, When God has first humbled them, then he kindly stretches forth his hand to them, and leads and guides them throughout the whole course of their life. Moreover, some understand these terms, judgment and way of the Lord, as denoting a righteous and well ordered manner of life. Others refer them to the providence of God, an interpretation which seems more correct, and more agreeable to the context, for it is immediately added, All the ways of Jehovah are mercy and truth. The meaning therefore is, that those who are truly humbled in their hearts, and brought to place their confidence in God, shall experience how much care he has for his children, 558 and how well he provides for their necessities. The terms, judgment and way of the Lord, therefore, are simply of the same import in this place as his government, in the exercise of which he shows that he, as a kind father, has a special interest in the welfare of his children, by relieving them when they are oppressed, raising them up when cast down, cheering and comforting them when sorrowful, and succouring them when afflicted. We perceive, then, by what order God proceeds in the manifestation of his grace towards us. First, he brings us again into the way when we are wandering and going astray from him, or rather, when we are already fugitives and exiles from him, he restrains our frowardness; and whereas we were before froward and rebellious, he now subdues us to the obedience of his righteousness: and, secondly, after he has afflicted and tried us, he does not forsake us; but after he has moulded and trained us by the cross to humility and meekness, he still shows himself to be a wise and provident father in guiding and directing us through life.
10. All the ways of Jehovah. This verse is erroneously interpreted by those who think that the doctrine of the law is here described as true and sweet, and that those who keep it feel it indeed to be so, as if this passage were of the same import as that which was spoken by Jesus Christ,
“My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Such an interpretation is not only strained, but may also be easily disproved by many similar passages in which the expression, The ways of the Lord, is taken in a passive signification, for the paternal manner in which he acts towards those who are his people, in defending and cherishing them; nay, even for his whole conduct in the government and direction of the affairs of this world. The amount of what is said is, that God acts in such a manner towards his people, as that, in all respects, they may find from experience that he is merciful and faithful. David is not here speaking of the character in which God acts towards mankind in general, but what his own children find him to be. We have already seen in Ps 18:26, that he is stern and severe towards the obstinate and rebellious; and even though he act with kindness towards them, in mercifully exercising forbearance towards them notwithstanding their iniquity, yet we find, that so far from seeking their full enjoyment in him, and trusting to his promises, they have no sense of his goodness. Nay, as soon as any adversity befalls them, they either become passionate and fretful, accuse God of acting cruelly towards them, or else complain that he is deaf to their prayers; and when they enjoy prosperity, they despise and neglect him, and as much as they are able flee from his presence. David, therefore, in speaking of the mercy and faithfulness of God, justly describes them as a treasure peculiar to the godly; as if he had said, We have no reason to be afraid that God will deceive us if we persevere in his covenant. These words, covenant and testimony, are of the same import, unless that the second is added as an explanation of the first. They comprehend the whole doctrine of the law, by which God enters into covenant with his chosen people.
11. For thy name’s sake, O Jehovah! As in the original text the copulative and is inserted between the two clauses of this verse, some think that the first clause is incomplete, and that some word ought to be supplied; and then they read these words, Be thou merciful to mine iniquity, etc., as a distinct sentence by itself. And thus, according to their opinion, the sense would be, Lord, although I have not fully kept thy covenant, yet do not on that account cease to show thy kindness towards me; and that mine iniquity may not prevent thy goodness from being extended towards me, do thou graciously pardon it. But I am rather of the opinion of others, who consider that the copulative is here, as it is in many other places, superfluous, so that the whole verse may form one connected sentence. As to the tense of the verb, there is also a diversity of opinion among interpreters. Some render it in the past tense thus, Thou hast been merciful, as if David here renders thanks to God because he had pardoned his sin. But the other interpretation, which is the one more generally received, is also the most correct, namely, that David, in order to obtain pardon, again resorts to the mercy of God as his only refuge. The letter ו, vau, which is equivalent to and, has often the force of changing the tense in the Hebrew verbs, so that the future tense is often taken in the sense of the optative. Moreover, I connect this verse with the preceding one in this way: The prophet, having reflected upon this, that God is kind and faithful to those who serve him, now examines his own heart, and acknowledges that he cannot be accounted of their number, unless God grant unto him the forgiveness of his sins; and, therefore, he betakes himself to prayer for pardon: as in Ps 19:13, after having spoken of the reward which is laid up for the faithful who keep the law, he instantly exclaims, “Who can understand his errors?” Accordingly, although David is not ignorant that God promises liberally to bestow upon those who keep his covenant every thing which pertains to a life of happiness, yet, at the same time, considering how far he is as yet from the perfect righteousness of the law, he does not rest his confidence upon it, but seeks a remedy for the manifold offenses of which he feels himself to be guilty. And thus, in order that God may reckon us of the number of his servants, we ought always to come to him, entreating him, after the example of David, in his fatherly loving-kindness, to bear with our infirmities, because, without the free remission of our sins, we have no reason to expect any reward of our works. At the same time, let it be observed, that in order to show more distinctly that he depends entirely upon the free grace of God, he expressly says, for thy name’s sake; meaning by this, that God, as often as he vouchsafes to pardon his people, does so from no other cause than his own good pleasure; just as he had said a little before, in the same verse, for thy goodness’ sake. He was also constrained, by a consideration of the magnitude of his offense, to call upon the name of God: for he immediately adds, by way of confession, because mine iniquity is great, or manifold, (for the word רב, rab, may be translated in both ways;) as if he had said, My sins are, indeed, like a heavy burden which overwhelms me, so that the multitude or enormity of them might well deprive me of all hope of pardon; but, Lord, the infinite glory of thy name will not suffer thee to cast me off.
12. Who is the man that feareth Yehovah, he will teach him, in the way that he should choose. 13. His soul shalt dwell in good, and his seed shall inherit the earth. 14. The counsel 559 of Jehovah is towards them that fear him, that he may make known his covenant to them. 15. Mine eyes are continually towards Jehovah, for he will bring my feet out of the net.
12. Who is the man. By again recalling to his mind the character in which God manifests himself towards his servants, he derives new strength and courage. For we have said, that nothing more readily occurs than a relaxation in earnest and attentive prayer, unless it be sustained by the recollection of God’s promises. There can, however, be no doubt, that David both accuses himself, and by entertaining a better hope, takes encouragement to continue in the fear of God. In the first place, by intimating that men are destitute of right understanding and sound judgment, because they yield not themselves to be governed by God with reverence and fear, he imputes it to his own indolence, that by reason of the darkness of his mind, he had wandered so far astray after his own lusts; and yet, on the other hand, he promises himself the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, if he only yield himself wholly to God, and show that he is willing to learn. Moreover, the interrogatory style of speaking, which he here employs, seems designed to show how few there are who fear God: for, although all men in general pray, and manifest some appearance of piety, yet where is there one among so many who is really in earnest? Instead of this, almost all men indulge themselves in their own drowsiness. The fear of God, therefore, is very rare; and on this account it is that the world, for the most part, continues destitute of the Spirit of counsel and wisdom.
Some interpreters render the word choose in the present tense, instead of the future, shall choose; as if it had been said, that God shows the way which he approves, and in which he wishes men to walk. With this interpretation I cannot agree; for, in my judgment, the word choose rather refers to every individual; as if it had been said, Provided we are disposed to fear God, he will not be wanting on his part, but will always direct us by the Spirit of wisdom to choose the right way. When we are called upon to adopt some particular course in life, we find ourselves as it were placed between two ways, and know not which of them to follow; 560 nay, in almost all our affairs we are held in suspense and doubt, unless God appear to show us the way. David therefore says, that although men know not what is right, and what they ought to choose, yet provided they submit to God with pious docility of mind, and are willing to follow him, he will always manifest himself towards them as a sure and faithful guide. As, however, the fear of God is not naturally in us, it were foolish for any man to argue from this place, that God does not begin to take care of men until, by their own previous efforts, they insinuate themselves into his favor, that he may aid them in their pious endeavors. David has just declared, that this grace comes directly from God, when he says that God teaches the transgressors: and now he adds, in the second place, that after men have once been subdued and moulded to meekness of spirit, God still takes them under his charge, guiding and directing them till they are able, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, to know what is their duty.
13. His soul shall dwell in good. If the supreme felicity of man consists in undertaking or attempting nothing except by the warrant of God, it follows that it is also a high and incomparable benefit to have him for our conductor and guide through life, that we may never go astray. But, in addition to this, an earthly blessing is here promised, in which the fruit of the preceding grace is distinctly shown, as Paul also teaches,
“Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” (1Ti 4:8,)
The sum is, that those who truly serve God are not only blessed as to spiritual things, but are also blessed by him as to their condition in the present life. It is indeed true, that God does not always deal with them according to their desires, and that the blessings which they would wish do not always flow in a certain and uniform manner. On the contrary, it often happens that they are tossed with sickness and trouble, whilst the wicked enjoy prosperity. But we must know, that as often as God withdraws his blessing from his own people, it is for the purpose of awakening them to a sense of their condition, and discovering to them how far removed they still are from the perfect fear of God. And yet, in so far as it is expedient for them, they now enjoy the blessings of God, so that, in comparison of worldly men, and the despisers of God, they are truly happy and blessed, because, even in their greatest poverty, they never lose the assurance that God is present with them; and being sustained by this consolation, they enjoy peace and tranquillity of mind. It is indeed true, that all our miseries proceed from this one source — that by our sins we prevent the divine blessing from flowing down in a uniform course upon us; and yet, amidst such a state of confusion, his grace never ceases to shine forth, so that the condition of the godly is always better than that of others: for although they are not satiated with good things, yet they are continually made to experience a sense of the fatherly favor of God. And to this I am willing to refer the word soul, namely, that, in the reception of the gifts of God, they do not devour them without feeling a sense of their sweetness, but really relish them, so that the smallest competency is of more avail to satisfy them than the greatest abundance is to satisfy the ungodly. Thus, according as every man is contented with his condition, and cheerfully cherishes a spirit of patience and tranquillity, his soul is said to dwell in good. Some interpreters apply this word to dwell or abide to the time of death; but this interpretation is more subtle than solid. The inspired penman rather speaks, as we have already said, of the condition of the present life. 561 He adds, in the second place, by way of illustration, that the posterity of the faithful shall inherit the land, and from this it follows, that God continues to extend his favor towards them. Hence we may again infer, that the death of God’s servants does not imply their utter destruction, and that they do not cease to exist when they pass out of this world, but continue to live for ever. It would be absurd to suppose that God would totally deprive of life those for whose sake he does good even to others. As to what is here said, that the children of the saints shall inherit the land, it has been touched upon elsewhere, and it will be shown still more fully on the thirty-seventh Psalm, in what respects, and how this is accomplished.
14. The counsel of Jehovah. The Psalmist here confirms what he had just said in a preceding verse, namely, that God will faithfully discharge the office of a teacher and master to all the godly; and, after his usual manner, he repeats the same sentiment twice in the same verse for the covenant of God is nothing else than his secret or counsel. By the use of the term secret, he means to magnify and extol the excellency of the doctrine which is revealed to us in the law of God. However much worldly men, through the pride and haughtiness of their hearts, despise Moses and the prophets, the faithful nevertheless acknowledge, that in the doctrine which they contain, the secrets of heaven, which far surpass the comprehension of man, are revealed and unfolded. Whoever, therefore, desires to derive instruction from the law, let him regard with reverence and esteem the doctrine which it contains. We are, farther, by this place admonished to cultivate the graces of meekness and humility, lest, in reliance upon our own wisdom, or trusting to our own understanding, we should attempt, by our own efforts, to comprehend those mysteries and secrets, the knowledge of which David here declares to be the prerogative of God alone. Again, since the fear of the Lord is said to be the beginning, and as it were the way that leads to a right understanding of his will, (Ps 111:10,) according as any one desires to increase in faith, so also let him endeavor to advance in the fear of the Lord. Moreover, when piety reigns in the heart, we need have no fear of losing our labor in seeking God. It is indeed true, that the covenant of God is a secret which far exceeds human comprehension; but as we know that he does not in vain enjoin us to seek him, we may rest assured that all those who endeavor to serve him with an upright desire will be brought, by the teaching of the Holy Spirit, to the knowledge of that heavenly wisdom which is appointed for their salvation. But, in the meantime, David indirectly rebukes those who falsely and groundlessly boast that they are interested in the covenant of God, while they rest merely in the letter of the law, and have no saving impressions of the fear of God. God, it is true, addresses his word indiscriminately to the righteous and the wicked; but men do not comprehend it, unless they have sincere piety; just as Isa 29:11, says, that as regards the ungodly, the law is like “a book that is sealed.” And, therefore, it is no wonder that there is here made a distinction between those who truly serve God, and to whom he makes known his secret, and the wicked or hypocrites. But when we see David in this confidence coming boldly to the school of God, and leading others along with him, let us know, as he clearly shows, that it is a wicked and hateful invention to attempt to deprive the common people of the Holy Scriptures, under the pretense of their being a hidden mystery; as if all who fear him from the heart, whatever their state or condition in other respects may be, were not expressly called to the knowledge of God’s covenant.
15. Mine eyes are continually towards Jehovah. David here speaks of his own faith, and of its perseverance, not in the way of boasting, but to encourage himself in the hope of obtaining his requests, so that he might give himself the more readily and cheerfully to prayer. As the promise is made to all who trust in God, that they shall not be disappointed of their hope, and that they shall never be put to shame, the saints often make this their shield of defense. Meanwhile, David shows to others, by his own example, the right manner of prayer, telling them that they should endeavor to keep their thoughts fixed upon God. As the sense of sight is very quick, and exercises an entire influence over the whole frame, it is no uncommon thing to find all the affections denoted by the term eyes. The reason which immediately follows shows still more plainly, that in the mind of David hope was associated with desire; as if he had said, That in resting his confidence in the help of God, he did so, not in doubt or uncertainty, but because he was persuaded that he would be his deliverer. The pronoun He, it ought to be observed, is also emphatic. It shows that David did not gaze around him in every direction, after the manner of those who, being in uncertainty, devise for themselves various methods of deliverance and salvation, but that he was contented with God alone.
16. Have respect unto me, and pity me, for I am alone and poor. 17. The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring thou me out of my distresses. 18. Look upon mine affliction and my trouble, 562 and take away all my sins. 19. Behold mine enemies, for they are increased; and they hate me with a violent 563 hatred. 20. Preserve my soul, and deliver me, that I may not be ashamed; for I have put my trust in thee. 21. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I have waited upon thee. 22. Do thou, O God! redeem Israel from all his troubles.
16. Have respect unto me. As the flesh is ever ready to suggest to our minds that God has forgotten us, when he ceases to manifest his power in aiding us, David here follows the order which nature dictates, in asking God to have respect unto him, as if he had altogether neglected him before. Now, it appears to me that the words might be explained thus: Have respect unto me, in order to pity me. He accounts it at once the cause and the source of his salvation to be regarded of God; and then he adds the effect of it: for as soon as God, of his own good pleasure, shall vouchsafe to regard us, his hand also will be ready to help us. Again, in order to excite the compassion of God, he sets forth his own misery, expressly stating that he is alone, that is to say, solitary; 564 and then he describes himself as poor. There can be no doubt that, in speaking thus, he alludes to the promises in which God declares that he will be always present with the afflicted and oppressed, to aid and help them.
17. The troubles of my heart are enlarged. In this verse he acknowledges not only that he had to contend outwardly with his enemies and the troubles which they occasioned him, but that he was also afflicted inwardly with sorrow and anguish of heart. It is also necessary to observe the manner of expression which he here employs, and by which he intimates that the weight and number of his trials had accumulated to such an extent that they filled his whole heart, even as a flood of waters bursting every barrier, and extending far and wide, covers a whole country. Now, when we see that the heart of David had sometimes been wholly filled with anguish, we need no longer wonder if at times the violence of temptation overwhelm us; but let us ask with David, that even whilst we are as it were at the point of despair, God would succor us.
18. Look upon mine affliction. By repeating these complaints so frequently, he plainly shows that the calamities with which he was assailed were not some slight and trivial evils. And this ought to be carefully marked by us, so that when trials and afflictions shall have been measured out to us after the same manner, we may be enabled to lift up our souls to God in prayer; for the Holy Spirit has set before our view this representation, that our minds may not fail us under the multitude or weight of afflictions. But in order to obtain an alleviation of these miseries, David again prays that his sins may be pardoned, recalling to his recollection what he had already stated, that he could not expect to enjoy the divine favor, unless he were first reconciled to God by receiving a free pardon. And, indeed, they are very insensible who, contented with deliverance from bodily affliction, do not search out the evils of their own hearts, that is to say, their sins, but as much as in them lies rather desire to have them buried in oblivion. To find a remedy, therefore, to his cares and sorrows, David begins by imploring the remission of his sins, because, so long as God is angry with us, it must necessarily follow, that all our affairs shall come to an unhappy termination; and he has always just ground of displeasure against us so long as our sins continue, that is to say, until he pardons them. 565 And although the Lord has various ends in view in bringing his people under the cross, yet we ought to hold fast the principle, that as often as God afflicts us, we are called to examine our own hearts, and humbly to seek reconciliation with him.
19. Behold mine enemies. In this verse David complains of the number and cruelty of his enemies, because the more the people of God are oppressed, the more is he inclined to aid them; and in proportion to the magnitude of the danger by which they are surrounded, he assists them the more powerfully. The words, hatred of violence, 566 are here to be understood of a cruel and sanguinary hatred. Now, as the rage of David’s enemies was so great, that nothing short of his death would satisfy them, he calls upon God to become the guardian and protector of his life; and from this it may be inferred, as I have already said, that he was now placed in extreme danger. The clause which immediately follows, That I may not be ashamed, may be understood in two ways. Some retain the future tense, I shall not be ashamed, as if David felt assured that he was already heard by God, and as the reward of his hope promised himself a gracious answer to his prayers. I am rather inclined to the opposite opinion — to consider these words as still forming a part of his prayer. The amount of what is stated therefore is, that as he trusts in God, he prays that the hope of salvation which he had formed might not be disappointed. There is nothing better fitted to impart a holy ardor to our prayers, than when we are able to testify with sincerity of heart that we confide in God. And, therefore, it behoves us to ask with so much the greater care, that he would increase our hope when it is small, awaken it when it is dormant, confirm it when it is wavering, strengthen it when it is weak, and that he would even raise it up when it is overthrown.
21. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me. Some are of opinion, that in these words David simply prays that he may be preserved from all mischief, on the ground that he had conducted himself inoffensively towards others, and had abstained from all deceit and violence. Others make the words to contain a twofold subject of prayer, and understand them as including at the same time a desire that God would bestow upon him a sincere and upright purpose of heart; and all this lest he should break forth into revenge, and other unlawful means of preserving his life. Thus the meaning would be: Lord, although my flesh may urge me to seek relief from whatever quarter it may appear, and mine enemies also may constrain me to it by their importunity, yet do thou subdue within me every sinful passion, and every perverse desire, so that I may always exercise over my mind a pure and entire control; and let integrity and uprightness suffice as two powerful means of preserving me. We prefer the first interpretation, because he immediately subjoins a proof of his integrity. Whosoever waits upon God with a meek and quiet spirit, will rather suffer any thing which men can inflict, than allow himself to contend unrighteously with his enemies. In my opinion, therefore, David protests that such was the rectitude of his behavior amongst men, that the persecution of his enemies was wholly unmerited and unjust; and being conscious of having given no offense to any, he calls upon God as the protector of his innocence. But as he has already, in three different places, acknowledged that he was justly visited with affliction, it may seem strange that he should now glory in his integrity. This apparent inconsistency has already been explained in another place, where we have shown that the saints, in respect of themselves, always come into the presence of God with humility, imploring his forgiveness: and yet this does not prevent them from setting forth before him the goodness of their cause, and the justice of their claims. At the same time, in saying that he trusted in God, he only states what indeed is essentially necessary; for, in undertaking our defense, it is not enough that we have justice on our side, unless depending upon his promises, we rely with confidence upon his protection. It often happens, that men of firmness and prudence, even when their cause is good, do not always succeed in its defense, because they confide in their own understanding, or rely upon fortune. In order, therefore, that God may become the protector and defender of our innocence, let us first conduct ourselves uprightly and innocently towards our enemies, and then commit ourselves entirely to his protection.
22. Do thou, O God! redeem Israel. By this conclusion David shows of what character the enemies were of whom he complained. From this it would appear that they were domestic enemies, who, like some disease raging within the bowels, were now the cause of trouble and vexation to the people of God. By the word redeem, which he here employs, we may infer that the Church was at that time oppressed with hard bondage; and, therefore, I have no doubt that in this psalm he alludes to Saul and others who reigned with him in a tyrannical manner. At the same time, he shows that he has respect not merely to his own benefit, but that he comprehends in his prayer the state of the whole realm, just as the mutual communion and connection which subsist among the saints require that every individual, deeply affected by a sense of the public calamities which befall the Church at large, should unite with all the others in lamentation before God. This contributed in no small degree to confirm the faith of David, when, regarding himself as in all things connected with the whole body of the faithful, he considered that all the afflictions and wrongs which he endured were common to himself with them. And we ought to regard it as of the greatest importance, that in accordance with this rule, every one of us, in bewailing his private miseries and trials, should extend his desires and prayers to the whole Church.
“Que tons ceux qui s’attendant a toy ne soyent point confus.” — Fr.
“Et sans estre trouble d’impatience.” — Fr.
“Et use de douceur envers eux.” — Fr.
“Redevable de tant plus grande condemnation.” — Fr.
“Humbles.” — Fr. “Humble.”
“Quel soin il ha de ses enfans.” — Fr.
“Ou, secret.” — Fr. “Or, secret.”
“Les gachans lequel prendre.” — Fr.
Horsley refers the words to the blessedness of a future state. He reads, “His soul shall rest in bliss;” and has the following note: — “תליך, pernoctavit. The words seem to allude to the happy state of the good man’s departed soul, while his posterity prosper in the present world.” That is, the land of Canaan, which God promised to perpetuate to the obedient Israelites and their posterity. “It was promised and given,” says Poole, “as an earnest of the whole covenant of grace and all his promises, and, therefore, is synecdochically put for all of them. The sense is, his seed shall be blessed.”
“Mon souci et travail.” — Fr. marg. “My care and labor.”
“C’est, cruelle.” — Note, Fr. marg. “That is, cruel.”
The Hebrew word here used is יחיד, yachid, unus, one, which is not infrequently put, as in this place, for a solitary and desolate person. David was now deserted, desolate, and destitute of all help. The word is used in the same sense in Ps 22:20, and Ps 35:17
“Cependant que nos pechez demeurent c’est a dire iusaues a ce qu’il les pardonne.” — Fr.
The Hebrew words literally rendered are, “With hatred of violence.”