Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 9: Psalms, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
David, being delivered from some great danger, and it may be, not from one only, but from many, extols very highly the grace of God, and by means of this, his soul is filled with admiration of the providence of God, which extends itself to the whole human race. Then he protests that he will give himself wholly to the service of God, and defines briefly in what manner God is to be served and honored. Afterwards, he again returns to the exercise of thanksgiving, and celebrates the praises of the Eternal by rehearsing many of his glorious and powerful deeds. Lastly, when he has complained of his enemies, he concludes the psalm with a new prayer.
To the chief musician. A Psalm of David.
1. In waiting I waited 79 for Jehovah, and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. 2. And he drew me out of the roaring pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. 3. And he hath put into my mouth a new song, even praise to our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in Jehovah.
1. In waiting I waited The beginning of this psalm is an expression of thanksgiving, in which David relates that he had been delivered, not only from danger, but also from present death. Some are of opinion, but without good reason, that it ought to be understood of sickness. It is rather to be supposed that David here comprehends a multitude of dangers from which he had escaped. He had certainly been more than once exposed to the greatest danger, even of death, so that, with good reason, he might be said to have been swallowed up in the gulf of death, and sunk in the miry clay It, nevertheless, appears that his faith had still continued firm, for he ceased not to trust in God, although the long continuance of the calamity had well nigh exhausted his patience. He tells us, not merely that he had waited, but by the repetition of the same expression, he shows that he had been a long time in anxious suspense. In proportion then as his trial was prolonged, the evidence and proof of his faith in enduring the delay with calmness and equanimity of mind was so much the more apparent. The meaning in short is, that although God delayed his help, yet the heart of David did not faint, or grow weary from delay; but that after he had given, as it were, sufficient proof of his patience, he was at length heard. In his example there is set before us this very useful doctrine, that although God may not forthwith appear for our help, but rather of design keep us in suspense and perplexity, yet we must not lose courage, inasmuch as faith is not thoroughly tried, except by long endurance. The result, too, of which he speaks in terms of praise, ought to inspire us with increased fortitude. God may succor us more slowly than we desire, but, when he seems to take no notice of our condition, or, if we might so speak, when he seems to be inactive or to sleep, this is totally different from deceit: for if we are enabled by the invincible strength and power of faith to endure, the fitting season of our deliverance will at length arrive.
2. And he drew me out of the roaring pit. Some translate, from the pit of desolation, 80 because the verb שאה, shaah, from which the noun שאום, shaon, is derived, signifies to destroy or to waste, as well as to resound or echo. But it is more appropriate to consider that there is here an allusion to the deep gulfs, where the waters gush with a tumultuous force. 81 By this similitude he shows that he was placed in as imminent peril of death as if he had been cast into a deep pit, roaring with the impetuous rage of waters. To the same purpose also is the similitude of the miry clay, by which he intimates that he had been so nearly overwhelmed by the weight of his calamities, that it was no easy matter to extricate him from them. Next, there follows a sudden and incredible change, by which he makes manifest to all the greatness of the grace which had been bestowed upon him. He declares that his feet were set upon a rock, whereas formerly he had been overwhelmed with water; and that his steps were established or upheld, whereas before they were not only unsteady and slippery, but were also stuck fast in the mire.
3. And he hath put into my mouth a new song In the first clause of the verse he concludes the description of what God had done for him. By God’s putting a new song into his mouth he denotes the consummation of his deliverance. In whatever way God is pleased to succor us, he asks nothing else from us in return but that we should be thankful for and remember it. As often, therefore, as he bestows benefits upon us, so often does he open our mouths to praise his name. Since God, by acting liberally towards us, encourages us to sing his praises, David with good reason reckons, that having been so wonderfully delivered, the matter of a new song had been furnished to him. He uses the word new in the sense of exquisite and not ordinary, even as the manner of his deliverance was singular and worthy of everlasting remembrance. It is true, that there is no benefit of God so small that it ought not to call forth our highest praises; but the more mightily he stretches forth his hand to help us, the more does it become us to stir up ourselves to fervent zeal in this holy exercise, so that our songs may correspond to the greatness of the favor which has been conferred upon us.
Many shall see it Here the Psalmist extends still farther the fruit of the aid which he had experienced, telling us, that it will prove the means of instruction common to all. And certainly it is the will of God that the benefits which he bestows upon any individual of the faithful should be proofs of the goodness which he constantly exercises towards all of them, so that the one, instructed by the example of the other, should not doubt that the same grace will be manifested towards himself. The terms fear, and hope, or trust, do not seem at first view to harmonise; but David has not improperly joined them together; for no man will ever entertain the hope of the favor of God but he whose mind is first imbued with the fear of God. I understand fear in general to mean the feeling of piety which is produced in us by the knowledge of the power, equity, and mercy of God. The judgment which God executed against the enemies of David served, it is true, to inspire all men with fear; but, in my opinion, David rather means, that by the deliverance which he had obtained, many would be induced to yield themselves to the service of God, and to submit with all reverence to his authority, because they would know him to be the Judge of the world. Now, whoever submits cordially to the will of God will of necessity join hope with fear; especially when there is presented to his view the evidence of the grace by which God commonly allures all men to himself; for I have already said that God is presented to our view as merciful and kind to others, that we may assure ourselves that he will be the same towards us. As to the word see, of which David makes use, we are to understand it as referring not only to the eyes, but chiefly to the perception of the mind. All without distinction saw what had happened, but to many of them it never occurred to recognize the deliverance of David as the work of God. Since, then, so many are blind regarding the works of God, let us learn, that those only are considered to see clearly to whom the Spirit of understanding has been given, that they may not occupy their minds in dwelling upon the mere events which take place, but may discern in them by faith the secret hand of God.
4. Blessed is the man who hath set Jehovah for his confidence, and hath not regarded the proud, and those who turn aside to lying. 82 5. Many are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, O Jehovah! my God: and it is impossible to reckon up in order to thee, 83 thy counsels towards us. I will declare and speak of them; they are more than can be told.
4. Blessed is the man who hath set Jehovah for his confidence David here relates what ground for good hope his deliverance would give to all the faithful; inasmuch as, setting aside all the allurements of the world, they would thereby be encouraged to commit themselves with confidence to the protection of God; persuaded not only that they are happy who trust in him alone, but that all other expectations at variance with this are deceitful and cursed. This assurance is not natural to us, but is derived partly from the word of God, and partly from his works; although, as I have said before, the contemplation alone of the works of God would not kindle this light within us, unless God, illuminating us by his word, should show us his benevolence. After having promised to be gracious to us, in manifesting also his goodness by indubitable proofs, he confirms with his own hand what he had previously uttered with his lips. David, therefore, from the fact of his having been restored to life from the abyss of death, justly declares that the faithful are taught from this proof — what men are naturally so reluctant to believe — that they are happy who trust in God alone.
As the instability of our nature commonly tends to draw us downward, and as all of us, from our proneness to yield to delusions, are tempted by many wicked examples, David immediately adds, that he is blessed who regardeth not the proud Some, indeed, render רהבים, rehabim, the rich, or the great of this world, but improperly, in my opinion; because pride, and turning aside to lies, are two things which David here joins together. To regard the great of the earth, therefore, does not signify, as they suppose, to rely upon their power and riches, as if a man’s welfare depended thereupon, but it rather means to be carried away by their examples, to imitate their conduct. When we are everywhere constantly seeing men puffed up with pride, who despise God, and place their highest felicity in ambition, in fraud, in extortion, in guile, a perverse desire of imitating them steals upon us by degrees; and, especially when every thing turns out according to their wishes, a vain and delusive expectation solicits us to try the same course. David, therefore, wisely, and not without good reason, warns us, that in order to have our mind constantly fixed in simple reliance upon God alone, we must guard against those evil examples which ever seek to allure us on all sides to apostatise from him. Moreover, when he says that the proud turn aside to lying, or vanity, 84 in this way he describes briefly the foolish confidence of the flesh. What else is the pride of those who put their own fancies in the place of God but a vain illusion? Certainly the man who, puffed up by the breath of fond conceit, arrogates any thing in the least degree to himself, flatters himself to his own destruction. In short, pride and vanity are opposed to the holy confidence which relies upon God alone; for there is nothing more difficult to the flesh than to trust in God alone, and the world is always full of proud and haughty men, who, soothing themselves with vain allurements, would soon corrupt the minds of the godly, if this arrest were not laid upon them, to restrain, as with a bridle, their erroneous and extravagant opinions.
5. Many are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, O Jehovah! Interpreters are not entirely agreed as to these words; but it is generally admitted that David here contemplates with admiration the providence of God in the government of mankind. And first of all, he exclaims that the wonders of God’s works are great or many; 85 meaning by this, that God in his inscrutable wisdom so governs human affairs, that his works, which come to be little thought of by men, from their constant familiarity with them, far surpass the comprehension of the human understanding. Thus we find, that from one particular species he ascends to the whole class; as if he had said, God has proved not only by this particular act the paternal care which he exercises towards men, but that, in general, his wonderful providence shines forth in the several parts of creation. Then he adds, that the counsels of God concerning us are so high and so hidden, that it is impossible to reckon them up in order distinctly and agreeably to their nature. Some think that the word אלינו, elenu, towards us, is employed by way of comparison, in this sense, The counsels of God are far beyond the reach of our understanding, (but David rather commends the care which God vouchsafes to take of us;) and as, in this way, the connection of the words is broken, they are constrained to render the word ערוד, aroch, which I have rendered to count in order, differently, namely, that none is equal to God, or can be compared with him. 86 But that I may not enter upon any lengthened refutation, the intelligent reader will agree with me in considering that the true meaning is this: That God, by his incomprehensible wisdom, governs the world in such a manner that we cannot reckon up his works in their proper order, seeing our minds, through their very dulness, fail us before we can reach to so great a height. It follows, to thee, for although we should in so far reflect how wonderfully the Lord can make provision for our wants, yet this consideration is limited by the imperfection of our understanding: and hence it falls far short of the infinite glory of God. Those who give this explanation, that the counsels of God are not referred to him, because the greatest part of men imagine that every thing is subject to chance and fortune, as if David meant in passing to censure the ingratitude of those who defraud God of his praise, are no doubt mistaken as to the meaning. In stating, as David does, immediately after, that however much he might set himself to rehearse the works of God, he yet would fail ere he could declare the half of them; — in stating this he shows with sufficient plainness that the godly and devout meditation, in which the children of God are often engaged, gives them only, as it were, a slight taste of them and nothing more. We have now arrived then at the Psalmist’s meaning. Having spoken before of the deliverance which God had vouchsafed to him, he takes occasion from it to set forth the general providence of God in nourishing and sustaining men. It is also his design in this to exhort the faithful to a consideration of God’s providence, that they may not hesitate to cast all their cares upon it. Whilst some are in constant pain by reason of their own anxiety and discontent, or quake at the slightest breeze that blows, and others labor hard to fortify and preserve their life by means of earthly succours, — all this proceeds from ignorance of the doctrine, that God governs the affairs of this world according to his own good pleasure. And as the great majority of men, measuring the providence of God by their own understanding, wickedly obscure or degrade it, David, placing it on its proper footing, wisely removes this impediment. The meaning of the sentence, therefore, amounts to this, that in the works of God men should reverently admire what they cannot comprehend by their reason; and whenever the flesh moves them to contradiction or murmuring, they should raise themselves above the world. If God cease to work, he seems to be asleep, because, binding up his hands to the use of outward means, we do not consider that he works by means which are secret. We may therefore learn from this place, that although the reason of his works may be hidden or unknown to us, he is nevertheless wonderful in his counsels.
This verse is closely connected with the preceding. No man places, as he ought, entire trust in God, but he who, shutting his eyes upon external circumstances, suffers himself to be governed by him according to his good pleasure. Moreover, having spoken hitherto in the third person, David now suddenly addresses his discourse, not, however, unadvisedly, to God, that he might lead us the more effectually to this sobriety and discretion. When, however, he affirms that the works of God cannot be distinctly known by us, it is not for the purpose of deterring us from seeking the knowledge of them, or from the examination of them, but only to lay a restraint upon our rashness, which would otherwise go beyond the proper boundaries in this respect. To this end, the words to thee, or before thee, are expressly employed, by which we are admonished that however diligently a man may set himself to meditate upon the works of God, he can only attain to the extremities or borders of them. Although then so great a height be far above our reach, we must, notwithstanding, endeavor, as much as in us lies, to approach it more and more by continual advances; as we see also the hand of God stretched forth to disclose to us, so far as it is expedient, those wonders, which we are unable of ourselves to discover. There is nothing so preposterous as to affect, of one’s own accord, a gross ignorance of the providence of God, because as yet we cannot comprehend it perfectly, but only discern it in part; even as at this day we find some who employ all their endeavors to bury it in oblivion, for no other pretense than that it surpasses our understanding, as if it were unreasonable to allow to God anything more than what appears right and proper, according to our carnal reason. David acts very differently regarding it. Feeling all his senses absorbed by an inconceivable majesty and brightness, which he could not bear to look upon, 87 he confesses frankly that these are wonderful things of which he could not comprehend the reason; but still he does not abstain wholly and everywhere from making mention of them, but, according to the measure of his capacity, sets himself devoutly to meditate upon them. From this we learn how foolish and vain a thing it is to say, by way of caution, that none should speak of the counsels or purposes of God, because they are high and incomprehensible. David, on the contrary, though he was ready to sink under the weight, ceased not to contemplate them, and abstained not from speaking of them, because he felt unequal to the task of rehearsing them, but was content, after having declared his faith on this subject, to finish his discourse in admiration.
6. In sacrifice and oblation thou hast not taken pleasure: thou hast bored my ears: thou hast not required burnt offering nor sin-offering. 7. Then I said, Lo! I come: in the roll of the book it is written of me, 8. That I may do thy pleasure, O my God! I have delighted to do it, and thy law is in the midst of my bowels. (Heb 10:5.)
6 In sacrifice and oblation thou hast not taken pleasure. Here David offers not only the sacrifice of praise, or, as the prophet Hosea calls it, (Ho 14:2,) “the calves of the lips,” but, in token of his gratitude, offers and consecrates himself entirely to God; as if he had said, I am now wholly devoted to God, because, having been delivered by his wonderful power, I am doubly indebted to him for my life. At the same time, treating of the true worship of God, he shows that it consists not in outward ceremonies, but rather that it is spiritual. Accordingly, the meaning is, that he came into the presence of God not only in the outward pomp or ceremony and figures of the law, but that he brought with him the true devotion of the heart. We know, indeed, that all men have some sense of religion impressed upon their hearts, so that no one dares to withdraw openly and wholly from his service, and yet the greater part of men turn aside into winding and crooked paths; and hence it happens, that in serving God in a perfunctory manner, their worship is scarcely anything else than a mockery of him. We see then the reason why David, on the present occasion, shows in what the true worship of God consists; it is, that he may distinguish between himself and hypocrites, who draw near to God with their lips only, or at least seek to pacify him with cold and unmeaning ceremonies.
We now come to the exposition of the words. I have no doubt that David, under the four different kinds of sacrifices which he here enumerates, comprehends all the sacrifices of the law. His meaning, to express it in a few words, is, that God requires not mere ceremonies of those who serve him, but that he is satisfied only with sincerity of heart, with faith and holiness of life: and that he takes no pleasure merely in the visible sanctuary, the altar, the burning of incense, the killing of beasts, the lights, the costly apparel, and outward washings. From this he concludes, that he ought to be guided by another principle, and to observe another rule in the service of God, than a mere attention to these — that he should yield himself wholly to God.
Thou hast bored my ears. Some think that in using this form of expression, David has a reference to the ordinance under the Law of which we read in Ex 21:6. If any bond-servant, when the time of his being discharged from servitude had arrived, made no account of his freedom, he was brought to the public place of judgment, and having there declared that he wished to continue in servitude, his master pierced his ear with an awl, as a mark of perpetual bondage. But this mode of interpretation appears to be too forced and refined. 88 Others more simply consider that it is of the same meaning as to render fit, or qualify for service, for David mentions not one ear only, but both. Men, we know, are naturally deaf, because they are so dull, that their ears are stopped until God pierce them. By this expression, therefore, is denoted the docility to which we are brought and moulded by the grace of the Holy Spirit. I, however, apply this manner of expression more closely to the scope of the passage before us, and explain it in this sense, That David was not slow and dull of hearing, as men usually are, so that he could discern nothing but what was earthly in the sacrifices, but that his ears had been cleansed, so that he was a better interpreter of the Law, and able to refer all the outward ceremonies to the spiritual service of God. He encloses the sentence, Thou hast bored my ears, as it were, in parenthesis, whilst he is treating professedly of sacrifices, so that the sentence might be explained in this way: Lord, thou hast opened my ears, that I may distinctly understand whatever thou hast commanded concerning the sacrifices, namely, that of themselves they afford thee no pleasure: for thou, who art a Spirit, takest no delight in these earthly elements, and hast no need of flesh or blood; and, therefore, thou requirest something of a higher and more excellent nature. If, however, it is objected that sacrifices were offered by the express commandment of God, I have just said that David here distinguishes between the spiritual service of God, and that which consisted in outward types and shadows. And in making this comparison, it is no great wonder to find him saying that the sacrifices are of no value, since they were only helps designed to lead men to true piety, and tended to a far higher end than that which was at first apparent. Seeing, then, God made use of these elements, only to lead his people to the exercises of faith and repentance, we conclude that he had no delight in being worshipped by sacrifices. We must always bear in mind, that whatever is not pleasing to God for its own sake, but only in so far as it leads to some other end, if it be put in the place of his true worship and service is rejected and cast away by him.
7. Then said I, Lo! I come. By the adverb then he intimates, that he had not been a good scholar, and capable of profiting by instruction, until God had opened his ears; but as soon as he had been instructed by the secret inspirations of the Spirit, he tells us, that then his heart was ready to yield a willing and cheerful obedience. Here true obedience is very properly distinguished from a constrained and slavish subjection. Whatever service, therefore, men may offer to God, it is vain and offensive in his sight, unless at the same time they offer themselves; and, moreover, this offering of one’s self is of no value unless it be done willingly. These words, Lo! I come, ought to be observed, and likewise the words, I have delighted to do thy will; for the Hebrew word חפצתי, chaphatsti, means, I was well pleased, or, I willingly condescended. Here David indicates his readiness to yield obedience, as well as the cordial affection of his heart and persevering resolution. His language implies, that he cordially preferred the service of God to every other desire and care, and had not only yielded a willing subjection, but also embraced the rule of a pious and holy life, with a fixed and steady purpose of adhering to it. This he confirms still further in the third clause of the verse, in which he says, that the Law of God was deeply fixed in the midst of his bowels 89 It follows from this, first, that however beautiful and splendid the works of men may appear, yet unless they spring from the living root of the heart, they are nothing better than a mere pretense; and, secondly, that it is to no purpose that the feet, and hands, and eyes, are framed for keeping the Law, unless obedience begin at the heart. Moreover, it appears from other places of Scripture, that it is the peculiar office of the Holy Spirit to engrave the Law of God on our hearts. God, it is true, does not perform his work in us as if we were stones or stocks, drawing us to himself without the feeling or inward moving of our hearts towards him. But as there is in us naturally a will, which, however, is depraved by the corruption of our nature, so that it always inclines us to sin, God changes it for the better, and thus leads us cordially to seek after righteousness, to which our hearts were previously altogether averse. Hence arises that true freedom which we obtain when God frames our hearts, which before were in thraldom to sin, unto obedience to himself.
In the roll of the book As the Septuagint has made use of the word head instead of roll, 90 some have been inclined to philosophise upon this clause with so much refinement of speculation, that they have exposed themselves to ridicule by their foolish and silly inventions. But the etymology of the word במגלת, bemegilath, is the same as the Latin word volumen, 91 which we call a roll It is necessary to ascertain in what sense David claims peculiarly to himself what is common or alike to all men. Since the Law prescribes to all men the rule of a holy and upright life, it does not appear, it may be said, that what is here stated pertains to any one man or any set of men. I answer, that although the literal doctrine of the Law belongs to all men in common, yet as of itself it is dead, and only beats the air, God teaches his own people after another manner; and that, as the inward and effectual teaching of the Spirit is a treasure which belongs peculiarly to them, it is written of them only in the secret book of God, that they should fulfill his will. The voice of God, indeed, resounds throughout the whole world, so that all who do not obey it are rendered inexcusable; but it penetrates into the hearts of the godly alone, for whose salvation it is ordained. As a general, therefore, enrols the names of his soldiers, that he may know their exact number, and as a schoolmaster writes the names of his scholars in a scroll, so has God written the names of his children in the book of life, that he may retain them under the yoke of his own discipline.
There still remains another difficulty connected with this passage. The Apostle, in Heb 10:5, seems to wrest this place, when he restricts what is spoken of all the elect to Christ alone, and expressly contends that the sacrifices of the Law, which David says are not agreeable to God in comparison of the obedience of the heart, are abrogated; and when quoting rather the words of the Septuagint, 92 than those of the prophet, he infers from them more than David intended to teach. As to his restricting this passage to the person of Christ, the solution is easy. David did not speak in his own name only, but has shown in general what belongs to all the children of God. But when bringing into view the whole body of the Church, it was necessary that he should refer us to the head itself. It is no objection that David soon after imputes to his own sins the miseries which he endures; for it is by no means an uncommon thing to find our errors, by a mode of expression not strictly correct, transferred to Christ. As to the abrogation of the sacrifices that were under the Law, I answer thus: That their abrogation may be fairly inferred from the language of the prophets; for this is not like many other places in which God condemns and rejects the sacrifices which were offered by hypocrites, and which were deservedly offensive to him on account of their uncleanness: for in these God condemns the outward ceremony, on account of the abuse and corruption of it, which rendered it nothing but a vain mockery; whereas here, when the Prophet speaks of himself as one who worshipped God sincerely, and yet denies that God had pleasure in these sacrifices, it may easily be inferred, that the rudiments which God had enjoined upon his ancient people for a time had some other end in view, and were only like infantile instructions designed to prepare them for some higher state. But if their truth and substance are contained in Christ, it is certain that they have been abolished by his coming. They were indeed still in use in the time of David: and yet he admonishes us that the true service of God, even when performed without sacrifices, was perfect and complete in all its parts, and every where; and that the ceremonies are things which might be regarded as non-essential, and, as we speak, adventitious. This is worthy of being noticed, that we may know that God, even after he has removed the figures which he had commanded for a time, does not cease always to resemble himself; for in these outward services he had respect solely to men. As to this, that the Apostle, following the Septuagint, has made subservient to his own use the word body, which is not used here by David, in such an allusion there is no inconsistency; for he does not undertake expressly to unfold and explain in every point the Psalmist’s meaning: but as he had said, that by the one sacrifice of Christ all the others had been abolished, he adds at the same time that a body had been prepared for Christ, that by the offering up of it he might fulfill the will of God.
9. I have proclaimed thy righteousness in the great assembly: behold, I will not refrain my lips: O Jehovah! thou knowest it. 10. I have not hidden thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy truth and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy goodness nor thy truth in the great assembly. 11. O thou Jehovah! withhold not thy tender mercies from me: let thy goodness and thy truth always preserve me.
9. I have proclaimed thy righteousness in the great assembly. Here David again brings forward his own thankfulness, and for no other reason but to induce God to continue his goodness towards him. God, whenever he manifests his liberality towards us, encourages us to render thanks to him; and he continues to act in a similar manner towards us when he sees that we are thankful and mindful of what he has done for us. In the first place, David makes use simply of the word righteousness; but it must be understood of the righteousness of God, which he expressly mentions soon after. Nor does he say, that it was only in the secret affection of the heart, or in private, that he offered praise to God, but that he had openly proclaimed it in the solemn assembly, even as the faithful in those days were wont to testify their devotion by presenting peace-offerings to God when they had been delivered from any great danger. The great assembly of which he speaks is not to be understood of the concourse of people that assemble at courts of law, or at the public market-places, but it denotes the true and lawfully constituted Church of God, which we know assembled in the place of his sanctuary. Accordingly, he declares that he had not concealed in his heart the righteousness of God, which it becomes us publicly to make known for the edification of one another. Those who keep it hid in their hearts are surely seeking as much as in them lies that the memory of God may be buried in oblivion. He calls upon God as a witness of this, not only to distinguish between himself and hypocrites, who often proclaim loudly, and with all their might, the praises of God, and yet do so without the least spark of affection; but also to make it the more abundantly obvious that he had sincerely and heartily uttered the praises of God, and was careful not to defraud him of any part of them. This affirmation teaches us that the subject which is here treated of is one of no small importance; for although God stands in no need of our praises, yet it is his will that this exercise for many reasons should prevail amongst us.
10 I have not hidden thy righteousness within my heart. Here it is necessary to observe the accumulation of terms which are employed to denote the same thing. To the righteousness of God the Psalmist adds his truth, his salvation, and his mercy. And what is the design of this, but to magnify and set forth the goodness of God by many terms or expressions of praise? We must, however, notice in what respects these terms differ; for in this way we may be able to ascertain in what respects they apply to the deliverance of which David here discourses. If these four things should be taken in their proper order, mercy will hold the first place, as it is that by which alone God is induced to vouchsafe, to regard us. His righteousness is the protection by which he constantly defends his own people, and the goodness by which, as we have already said elsewhere, he preserves them. And, lest any should doubt that it will flow in a constant and uninterrupted course, David adds in the third place truth; by which we are taught that God continues always the same, and is never wearied of helping us, nor at any time withdraws his hand. There is, at the same time, implied in this an exhibition of the promises; for no man will ever rightly take hold of the righteousness of God but he who embraces it as it is offered and held forth in the Word. Salvation is the effect of righteousness, for God continues to manifest his free favor to his people, daily affording them aid and assistance, until he has completely saved them.
11 O thou Jehovah! withhold not thy tender mercies from me We now see more clearly, what I have just adverted to, that David speaks of his own thankfulness, that he might secure a continuance of God’s favor towards him; and that he opened his mouth in the praises of God, that he might continue to acquire new favors, against which our perverse and ungrateful silence very often closes the gate. We ought, therefore, carefully to observe the relation which the clause, in which David affirms that he closed not his lips, bears to what follows, namely, that God on his part would not contract or stop up the course of his tender mercies; for by this we are taught that God would always be ready to relieve us by his goodness, or rather that it would flow down upon us as from a never-failing fountain, if our own ingratitude did not prevent or cut off its course. The tender mercies of God, which he expresses by the word רחמיד, rachamecha, and of which he here speaks, differ little from his goodness. It was not, however, without cause that David chose to make this distinction. It could only be, first, because he was unable otherwise to satisfy himself in extolling the grace of God; and, secondly, because it was requisite to show that the source from which the mercy and goodness of God proceed, when he is moved in compassion for our miseries to aid and succor us. Then he places his confidence of salvation in the goodness and faithfulness of God, for we must of necessity begin (as I have said a little before) at the free favor of God, that his bounty may extend even to us. But as we are unable to discern that God is gracious to us until he grant us some assurance of his love, his constancy is, with much propriety, placed in connection with his truth in keeping his promises.
12. For innumerable evils have compassed me on all sides; my iniquities have laid hold upon me, so that I cannot look up: 93 they are more in number than the hairs of my head; and my heart has failed me. 13. Be thou pleased, O Jehovah! to deliver me: O Jehovah! make haste to help me. 14. Let them be ashamed and confounded together that seek after my life to destroy it; let them be turned backward, and put to shame, that seek after my hurt. 15. Let them be destroyed for a reward of their shame who have said to me, 94 Aha, aha!
12. For innumerable evils have compassed me on all sides This phrase, in the original, denotes more than can be expressed in an English translation; for he says, עלי alay, upon me, meaning by this, that he was not only beset on all sides, but that also an accumulation of evils pressed upon his head. He, however, does not now complain of being punished unjustly, or above his desert, but rather confesses plainly that it is the just recompense of his sins which is rendered to him. For although the word עון, avon, which we have rendered iniquity, signifies also the punishment of iniquity, (as we have elsewhere seen more than once;) yet we must take into consideration the derivation of the word. 95 Accordingly, since David calls the afflictions which he endures the fruit or effect of his transgressions, there is implied in this a humble confession, from which we may ascertain with what reverence and meekness he submitted to the judgments of God, seeing that, when overwhelmed with an accumulation of miseries, he sets forth his sins in all their magnitude and aggravation, lest he should suspect God of undue severity. When we see David treated so severely, let us also learn, when we are oppressed with extreme afflictions, and are groaning under them, humbly to implore the grace and mercy of our Judge. Nor is it his design to show that he had been stupid or hardened, when he says that his heart failed or forsook him. His language means, that he was not only broken-hearted, but that he lay as if he had been dead. We must, however, understand this fainting or failing of the heart as referring to the sense of the flesh; for his perseverance in prayer is a certain proof that his faith was never altogether extinguished. But since he was, in so far as man was concerned, destitute of counsel, and was altogether without strength, it is not without cause that he says that his heart failed him.
13. Be thou pleased, O Jehovah! to deliver me. The verb which David here makes use of, signifies to desire a thing from pure kindness and good-will. 96 He desires, therefore, to be delivered by the free mercy of God. As to his desire, that God would make haste, we have elsewhere spoken of it. Even when God delays to help us, it is our duty to contend against a feeling of weariness; but such is his goodness, that he permits us to use this form of prayer, That he would make haste according to our desires. Then, according to his usual practice, citing his enemies to the judgment-seat of God, he feels confident, that, on account of their cruelty, and unjust and wicked hatred, he shall obtain what he asks. We must maintain it as a fixed principle, that the more unjustly our enemies afflict us, and the more cruelly they wrong us, God is so much the more disposed to give us help. And it is no slight consolation that the mercy of God strives against their wickedness, so that the more fiercely our enemies pursue us to effect our hurt, the more ready is he to bring us help. We have already frequently spoken of the feelings with which David uttered these imprecations, and it is necessary here again to refresh our memories on the subject, lest any man, when giving loose reins to his passions, should allege the example of David in palliation or excuse. This wicked and counterfeit imitation on the part of those who follow the powerful impulse of the flesh, instead of being guided by the zeal of the Spirit, is always to be held up to condemnation.
When the Psalmist prays (verse 15) that his enemies may be destroyed for a reward of their shame, the meaning is this: As their sole desire has been to overwhelm me with shame, in order that, while thus dismayed and confounded, they might make me the object of their derision; so let a similar confusion fall upon their own heads. In the second clause of the verse he describes the nature of this confusion by relating the terms of their wicked triumphing, by which they poured contempt upon him while he was so oppressed with misery and affliction. We are here taught that, when our enemies shall have persecuted us to the uttermost, a recompense is also prepared for them; and that God will turn back, and cause to fall upon their own heads, all the evil which they had devised against us; and this doctrine ought to act as a restraint upon us, that we may behave ourselves compassionately and kindly towards our neighbors.
16. Let all those that seek thee be glad and rejoice in thee: and let those that love thy salvation say continually, Jehovah be magnified! 17. But I am poor and needy: Jehovah hath regarded me; thou art my help and my deliverer: O thou my God! make no delay.
16. Let all those that seek thee be glad and rejoice in thee. David here uses another argument — one which he often adduces elsewhere — in order to obtain deliverance; not that it is necessary to allege reasons to persuade God, but because it is profitable to confirm our faith by such supports. As, then, it is the will of God that he should be known in his gracious character, not only of one or two, but generality of all men, whenever he vouchsafes deliverance to any of his children, it is a common benefit which all the faithful ought to apply to themselves when they see in the person of one man in what manner God, who is never inconsistent with himself, will act towards all his people. David, therefore, shows that he asks nothing for himself individually but what pertains to the whole Church. He prays that God would gladden the hearts of all the saints, or afford them all common cause of rejoicing: so that, assured of his readiness to help them, they may have recourse to him with greater alacrity. Hence we conclude, that, in the case of every individual, God gives a proof of his goodness towards us. What is added, those that love thy salvation, is also worthy of being observed by us. We may infer from this, that our faith is only proved to be genuine when we neither expect nor desire preservation otherwise than from God alone. Those who devise various ways and means of preservation for themselves in this world, despise and reject the salvation which God has taught us to expect from him alone. What had been said before, those who seek thee, is to the same purpose. If any individual would depend wholly upon God, and desire to be saved by his grace, he must renounce every vain hope, and employ all his thoughts towards the reception of his strength. Here, again, we must observe that two things are contrasted with each other. Formerly David had said that the wicked sought his life; now he ascribes to the faithful quite a contrary feeling, namely, that they seek God. In like manner he had related the reproaches and derision of the ungodly, while they said, Aha, aha! and now he introduces the godly speaking very differently, saying, The Lord be magnified!
17. But I am poor and needy. In this concluding clause he mingles prayer with thanksgiving, although it may be that he records a request which he had made when he was placed in extreme danger. The first clause of the verse might be rendered thus: Although I was miserable and poor, God did think upon me. As according to the extent in which any one is afflicted, so is he despised by the world, we imagine that he is disregarded by God, we must, therefore, steadfastly maintain that our miseries in no respect produce on the part of God a feeling of weariness towards us, so that it should become troublesome to him to aid us. In this way, however, let us rather read the clause: When I was miserable and poor, the Lord looked upon my necessity: So that by this circumstance he enhances the grace of God. If God anticipate us with his goodness, and do not wait till adversity presses upon us, then his favor towards us is not so apparent. This comparison, therefore, illustrates very clearly the glory of God in the deliverance of David, inasmuch as he vouchsafed to stretch forth his hand to a man who was despised and rejected of all men, nay, who was destitute of all help and hope. Now, if it was necessary that David should have been reduced to this extremity, it is no wonder if persons in a more private station are often humbled after this manner, that they may feel and acknowledge in good earnest that they have been delivered out of despair by the hand of God. The simple and natural meaning of the prayer is this, Lord, thou art my help and my deliverer, therefore delay not to come to my aid. As it is a foolish thing to approach God with a doubtful and wavering mind, the Psalmist takes courage, as he was wont to do from his own experience, and persuades himself that the help of God, by which he had been hitherto preserved, would not fail him.
“C’est, paciemment.” — Fr. marg. “That is, patiently.” Calvin in the text gives the literal rendering of the Hebrew. In waiting I waited is a Hebraism which signifies vehement desire, and yet entire resignation of mind. “The doubling of the word,” says Ainsworth, “denotes earnestness, constancy, patience.”
The Septuagint reads, “Εχ λάχχου ταλαιπωρίας.” — “Out of a pit of misery;” and Ainsworth, “the pit of sounding calamity,” or “dungeon of tumultuous desolation, which,” says he, “echoed and resounded with dreadful noises.” “The sufferings of the Psalmist,” observes Bishop Mant, “are here described under the image of a dark subterraneous cavern from which there was no emerging; and where roaring cataracts of water broke in upon him, overwhelming him on every side, till, as it is expressed in the 18th psalm, ‘God sent from above and took him, and drew him out of many waters.’”
“Un marveilleux bruit.” — Fr. “A marvellous noise.”
“A vanite.” — Fr. “To vanity.”
“Devant toy.” — Fr. “Before thee, or in thy presence.”
“Ou vanite“ — Fr.
“Sont grandes ou infinies.” — Fr. “Are great or innumerable.”
“This verb,” says Ainsworth, “is sometimes used for matching or comparing.” In this sense the word occurs in Ps 89:7; and this is the sense in which the Septuagint understands it here: “Καὶ τοῖς διαλογισμοῖς σου οὐχ ἔστι τις ὁμοιωθήσεται σοι;” — “and in thy thoughts there is none who shall be likened to thee.” Street reads, “There is none to be compared to thee;” and observes, that “above sixty copies of Dr Kennicott’s collection have ערוך, the passive participle here, instead of ערך.”
“Sentant tous ses sens engloutis d’une majeste et resplendeur infinie, que sa veue pouvoit porter.” — Fr.
The objections to this interpretation are,
1. That the verb כרה carah, here used, does not mean to bore, but that the radical idea of the word is, to dig, to hollow out; as to dig a well, Ge 26:25; a pit, Ps 7:15; to carve or cut out a sepulcher from a rock, 2Ch 16:14; and hence we find it transferred from the grottoes of the sepulcher to the quarry of human nature, Isa. 51:1, 2. Williams, viewing the verb as properly signifying digged, carved, or cut out, in the sense of forming, explains the words as if the Psalmist had said, “Mine ears hast thou made, or prepared, for the most exact and complete obedience.” Stuart, (Commentary on Heb 10:5,) and Davidson, (Sacred Hermeneutics, p. 461,) viewing the word as meaning digged, hollowed out, simply in the sense of opening, read, “Mine ears hast thou opened;” which they explain as meaning, Thou hast made me obedient, or, I am entirely devoted to thy service; observing, that to open or uncover the ear was a customary expression among the Hebrews, to signify a revealing something to any one, including the idea of listening to the communication, followed by prompt obedience, Isa 50:5; 1 Samuel. 20:2. There is another verb of the same radical letters, which means to purchase or provide; and this is the sense in which the LXX. understood כרה, carah, as is evident from their rendering it by κατηρτίσω
2. That the verb used in Exodus is not כרה, as here, but רצע, ratsang
3. That only one ear was pierced, as appears from the passages in the Pentateuch in which the rite is described. But here the plural number is used, denoting both ears. From these considerations, it is concluded that there is here no allusion to the custom of boring the ear of a servant under the Law.
This is the literal rendering of the Hebrew, and means, As dear to me as life itself; (Joh 6:38; Job 38:36.)
Anciently, books did not consist, like ours, of a number of distinct leaves bound together, but were composed of sheets of parchment joined to each other, and rolled up for preservation upon wooden rollers, as our charts of geography are; and in this form are all the sacred MSS. of the Jewish synagogues to this day. The roll of the book, therefore, simply means the book itself. With respect to the reading of the Septuagint, “Εν κεθαλίσδι βιβλίου;” — “In the head of the book;” and which Paul, in Heb 10:7, quotes instead of the Hebrew: this is an expression which the LXX. employ simply to mean the book, as in Ezr 6:2; Eze 2:9; and Eze 3:1-3; and not the beginning or head of the book At the extremity of the cylinder on which the Hebrew כפר, βιβλιου, book or manuscript, was rolled, were heads or knobs for the sake of convenience to those who used the MS. The knob or head, κεθαλις, is here taken as a part put for the whole Κεθαλις βιβλίου means therefore βιβλιου, or ספר, with a κεθαλις, i e., a manuscript roll. — Stuart on Heb 10:7. Hence it is evident, that we are not to understand this phrase, the head of the book, as referring to that prophecy in Ge 3:15. As to what book is here referred to, there is some diversity of opinion among interpreters. Some understand it to be the book of the divine decrees, some the Pentateuch, and others all that was written concerning Christ “in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets, and in the Psalms.”
Volumen is from volvo, I roll.
The Septuagint here reads, “Σῶμα δὲ κατηρτίσω μοι” — “But a body hast thou prepared [or fitted] for me.” This reading is widely different from that of our Hebrew Bibles; and, to account for it, critics and commentators have had recourse to various conjectures: nor is the subject without considerable difficulty. Some think that the Septuagint has been corrupted, and others the Hebrew. Grotius is of opinion, and he is followed by Houbigant, that the original reading of the Septuagint was ἄκουσμα, auditum, which afterwards, in the process of transcription, had been changed into σῶμα; while Drs Owen and Hammond think that the original reading was ὠτία, ears It is conjectured by Kennicott that the Hebrew text has been changed from אז גות, az gevah, then a body, into אזנום, aznayim, ears; a conjecture which meets with the approbation of Dr Lowth, Dr Adam Clarke, and Dr Pye Smith. But it goes far to support the accuracy of the Hebrew text as it now stands, that the Syriac, Chaldee, and Vulgate versions agree with it, and that in all the MSS. collated by Kennicott and De Rossi there is not a single variation. With respect to the Apostle’s quoting from the Septuagint instead of the Hebrew, it is sufficient to say, that he did so because the Septuagint was then in common use. And it is worthy of observation, that his argument does not depend on the word, σῶμα δὲ κατηρτίσω μοι: his design is to show the insufficiency of the legal sacrifices, and to establish the efficacy of Christ s obedience unto death; and his argument would be equally complete had these words been omitted: for it is not made to depend on the manner of the obedience. — See Archbishop Secker’s able Dissertation on the subject in the Appendix to Merrick’s Notes on the Psalms; and Stuart on Heb 10:5, and Excursus 20.
“Mes iniquitez m’ont attrappe, voire en si grand nombre que ne les ay peu veoir.” — Fr. “My iniquities have laid hold upon me, even in such vast numbers that I cannot see them.”
“Ou, dit de moy.” — Fr. marg. “Or, who have said concerning me.”
The word עוז, avon, is derived from עוה, avah, he was crooked, oblique; and hence the noun signifies iniquity, depravity, perverseness; but it is also put for the punishment due to iniquity. See volume 1, p. 507, note.
“רצה, retse, be pleased From רצה, ratsah, he wished well, was pleased, accepted, excluding any merit as a ground for that acceptance.” — Bythner’s Lyra