Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 9: Psalms, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
This psalm is divided into three principal parts. In the beginning of it the faithful record the infinite mercy of God towards his people, and the many tokens by which he had testified his fatherly love towards them. Then they complain that they do not now find that God is favorable towards them, as he had formerly been towards their fathers. In the third place, they refer to the covenant which God had made with Abraham, and declare that they have kept it with all faithfulness, notwithstanding the sore afflictions to which they had been subjected. At the same time, they complain that they are cruelly persecuted for no other cause but for having continued steadfastly in the pure worship of God. In the end, a prayer is added, that God would not forget the wrongful oppression of his servants, which especially tends to bring dishonor and reproach upon religion.
To the chief musician of the sons of Korah, giving instruction.
It is uncertain who was the author of this psalm; but it is clearly manifest that it was composed rather by any other person than by David. The complaints and lamentations which it contains may be appropriately referred to that miserable and calamitous period in which the outrageous tyranny of Antiochus destroyed and wasted every thing. 129 Some, indeed, may be disposed to apply it more generally; for after the return of the Jews from the captivity of Babylon, they were scarcely ever free from severe afflictions. Such a view, doubtless, would not be applicable to the time of David, under whose reign the Church enjoyed prosperity, It may be, too, that during the time of their captivity in Babylon, some one of the prophets composed this complaint in name of all the people. It is, however, at the same time to be observed, that the state of the Church, such as it was to be after the appearance of Christ, is here described. Paul, in Ro 8:36, as we shall afterwards see in its proper place, did not understand this psalm as a description of the state of the Church in one age only, but he warns us, that Christians are appointed to the same afflictions, and should not expect that their condition on earth, even to the end of the world, will be different from what God has made known to us, as it were by way of example, in the case of the Jews after their return from captivity. Christ, it is true, afterwards appeared as the Redeemer of the Church. He did not however appear, that the flesh should luxuriate in ease upon the earth, but rather that we should wage war under the banner of the cross, until we are received into the rest of the heavenly kingdom. As to the meaning of the word משכיל, maskil, it has been already elsewhere explained. It is sometimes found in the inscription of psalms whose subject is cheerful; but it is more commonly used when the subject treated of is distressing; for it is a singular means of leading us to profit by the instruction of the Lord, when, by subduing the obduracy of our hearts, he brings us under his yoke.
1. O God! we have heard with our ears, our fathers have declared to us, the work which thou hast done in their days, even in the days of old. 2. Thou hast expelled the heathen [or nations 130 ] with thy hand, and planted them 131 thou hast wasted the peoples 132 and multiplied them, [or made them 133 to spread.] 3. For they got not possession of the land by their own sword, and their own arm did not save them, but thy right hand, and thy arm, and the light of thy countenance, because thou hadst a favor for them.
1. O God! we have heard with our ears. The people of God here recount the goodness which he had formerly manifested towards their fathers, that, by showing the great dissimilarity of their own condition, they may induce God to alleviate their miseries. They begin by declaring that they speak not of things unknown or doubtful, but that they related events, the truth of which was authenticated by unexceptionable witnesses. The expression, We have heard with our ears, is not to be considered as a redundant form of speech, but one of great weight. It is designed to point out that the grace of God towards their fathers was so renowned, that no doubt could be entertained respecting it. They add, that their knowledge of these things was handed down from age to age by those who witnessed them. It is not meant that their fathers, who had been brought up out of Egypt, had, a thousand and five hundred years after, declared to their posterity the benefits God had conferred upon them. The import of the language is, that not only the first deliverance, but that also the various other works which God had wrought from time to time in behalf of his people, had come down, as it were, from hand to hand, in an uninterrupted series, even to the latest age. As, therefore, those who, after the lapse of many ages, became witnesses and heralds of the grace which God had exercised towards this people, spake upon the report of the first generation, the faithful are warranted in saying, as they here do, that their fathers have declared to them that which they certainly knew, because the knowledge of it had not been lost by reason of its antiquity, but was continually preserved by the remembrance of it from the fathers to the children. The sum of the whole is, that God had manifested his goodness towards the children of Abraham, not only for ten or twenty years, but that ever since he had received them into his favor, he had never ceased to bestow upon them continued tokens of his grace.
2. Thou hast expelled the heathen with thy hand. This is an illustration of the preceding verse: for the inspired writer had not yet expressly referred to that work of God, the fame of which had been preserved by their fathers. He therefore now adds, that God with his own hand expelled the heathen, in order to plant in their room the children of Abraham: and that he wasted and destroyed them, that he might increase and multiply the seed of Abraham. He compares the ancient inhabitants of the land of Canaan to trees; for, from long continued possession of the country, they had, as it were, taken root in it. The sudden change, therefore, which had happened to them, was as if a man plucked up trees by the roots to plant others in their stead. But as it would not have been enough for God’s ancient people to have been planted at first in the country, another metaphor is here added, by which the faithful testify that the blessing of God had caused this chosen people to increase and multiply, even as a tree, extending it roots and its branches far and wide, gains still greater strength in the place where it has been planted. Besides, it is necessary to observe for what purpose it is that the faithful here magnify this manifestation of the grace of God. It often happens that our own hearts suggest to us grounds of despair, when we begin to conclude that God has rejected us, because he does not continue to bestow upon us the same benefits which in his goodness he vouchsafed to our fathers. But it were altogether inconsistent, that the faithful here disposing their hearts for prayer, should allow such an obstacle to prevent them from exercising the confidence which is proper in prayer. I freely admit, that the more we think of the benefits which God has bestowed upon others, the greater is the grief which we experience when he does not relieve us in our adversities. But faith directs us to another conclusion, namely, that we should assuredly believe that we shall also in due time experience some relief, since God continues unchangeably the same. There can be no reason to doubt, that the faithful now call to remembrance the things which God had formerly done for the welfare of his Church, with the view of inspiring their minds with stronger hope, as we have seen them acting in a similar manner in the beginning of the twenty-second psalm. They do not simply state the comparison, which would tend to draw a line of separation between those who have in former times been preserved by the power of God, and those who now labored and groaned under afflictions; but they rather set forth the covenant of God as the bond of holy alliance between them and their fathers, that they might conclude from this, that whatever amount of goodness the Church had at any time experienced in God pertained also to them. At first, indeed, they use the language of complaint, asking why it is that the course of God’s fatherly favor towards his people is, as it were, interrupted; but straightway they correct their mistake, and take courage from a new consideration — the consideration that God, who had adopted them as well as their fathers, is faithful and immutable. It is, however, no great wonder if the faithful, even in prayer, have in their hearts divers and conflicting affections. But the Holy Spirit, who dwells in them, by assuaging the violence of their sorrow, pacifies all their complaints and leads them patiently and cordially to obey. Moreover, when they here say that their fathers have declared to them the deliverances which God had accomplished in behalf of his Church, what the fathers did in this respect corresponds with the precept of the law, by which the fathers were commanded to teach their children. And all the faithful ought to reflect that the same charge is enjoined upon them by God even to this day. He communicates to them the doctrine of salvation, and commits it to their charge for this purpose — that they may transmit it to their posterity, and, as much as in them lies, endeavor to extend its authority, that his worship may be preserved from age to age.
3 For they got not possession of the land by their own sword. Here the sacred writer confirms by contrast what he has just said; for if they obtained not possession of the land by their own power and skill, it follows that they were planted in it by the hand of another. The multitude of men who went out of Egypt was very great; but not being trained to the art of war, and accustomed only to servile works, they would soon have been defeated by their enemies, who far excelled them in numbers and strength. In short, there were not wanting evident signs by which the people were made to know as well their own weakness as the power of God; so that it was their bounden duty to confess that the land was not conquered by their own sword, and also, that it was the hand of God which had preserved them. The Psalmist, not content with mentioning thy right hand, adds, thy arm, to amplify the matter, and give greater weight to his discourse, that we may know that they were preserved in a wonderful manner, and not by any ordinary means. The light of thy countenance is here taken, as in other places, for the manifestation of the divine favor. As, on the one hand, when God is afflicting us severely, he seems to frown upon us, and to overshadow his face with thick clouds; so, on the other, when the Israelites, sustained by his power, overthrew their enemies without any great difficulty, and pursued them in every direction far and near, it is said, that then they beheld the face of God serene and placid, just as if he had manifested himself in a visible manner near them. Here it is necessary to observe the mode of reasoning which the prophet employs, when he argues that it is by the free gift of God that the people obtained the land in heritage, seeing they had not acquired it by their own power. We then truly begin to yield to God what belongs to him, when we consider how worthless our own strength is. And certainly, the reason why men, as it were through disdain, conceal and forget the benefits which God has conferred on them, must be owing to a delusive imagination, which leads them to arrogate somewhat to themselves as properly their own. The best means, therefore, of cherishing in us habitually a spirit of gratitude towards God, is to expel from our minds this foolish opinion of our own ability. There is still in the concluding part of the verse another expression, which contains a more illustrious testimony to the grace of God, when the Psalmist resolves the whole into the good pleasure of God: Thou hadst a favor for them. The prophet does not suppose any worthiness in the person of Abraham, nor imagine any desert in his posterity, on account of which God dealt so bountifully with them, but ascribes the whole to the good pleasure of God. His words seem to be taken from the solemn declaration of Moses,
“The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; (for ye were the fewest of all people;) but because the Lord loved you,” (Deut. 7:7, 8.)
Special mention is here made of the land of Canaan; but the prophet has stated the general principle why it was that God vouchsafed to reckon that people for his flock and peculiar heritage. And certainly, the source and origin of the Church is the free love of God; and whatever benefits he bestows upon his Church, they all proceed from the same source. The reason, therefore, why we are gathered into the Church, and are nourished and defended by the hand of God, is only to be sought in God. Nor does the Psalmist here treat of the general benevolence of God, which extends to the whole human race; but he discourses of the difference which exists between the elect and the rest of the world; and the cause of this difference is here referred to the mere good pleasure of God.
4. Thou, even thou, art my King, 134 O God! command [or ordain] deliverances for Jacob. 5. Through thee we have pushed [or smitten] with the horn our adversaries: in thy name we have trampled under foot those that rose u, against us. 6. For I will not trust in my bow, and my sword will not save me. 7. Surely thou hast saved us from our enemies, and hast put to shame those that hated us. 8. In God we will boast all the day, and confess thy name for ever. Selah.
4. Thou, even thou, art my King, O God! In this verse the faithful express still more plainly what I have already alluded to a little before, namely, that the goodness of God was not only apparent in the deliverance of his people, but also flowed upon them in continued succession from age to age; and therefore it is said, Thou, even thou, art my King In my judgment, the demonstrative pronoun הוא, hu, imports as much as if the prophet had put together a long series of the benefits of God after the first deliverance; so that it might appear, that God, who had once been the deliverer of his people, did not show himself otherwise towards their posterity: unless, perhaps, it might be considered as emphatic, and employed for the purpose of asserting the thing stated the more strongly, namely, that the faithful praise God alone as the guardian of their welfare to the exclusion of all others, and the renunciation of aid from any other quarter. Hence they also present the prayer, that God would ordain and send forth new deliverances to his people; for, as he has in his power innumerable means of preservation and deliverance, he is said to appoint and send forth deliverances as his messengers wherever it seems good to him.
5. Through thee we have pushed, or smitten, with the horn our adversaries. 135 The prophet here declares in what respect God had manifested himself to be the King of this people. He did so by investing them with such strength and power, that all their enemies stood in fear of them. The similitude, taken from bulls, which he here uses, tends to show, that they had been endued with more than human strength, by which they were enabled to assail, overturn, and trample under foot, every thing which opposed them. In God, and in the name of God, are of the same import, only the latter expression denotes, that the people had been victorious, because they fought under the authority and direction of God. It ought to be observed, that what they had spoken before concerning their fathers, they now apply to themselves, because they still formed a part of the same body of the Church.
And they do this expressly to inspire themselves with confidence and courage, for had they separated themselves from their fathers, this distinction would, in a certain sense, have interrupted the course of God’s grace, so that it would have ceased to flow down upon them. But now, since they confess that whatever God had conferred upon their fathers he had bestowed upon them, they may boldly desire him to continue his work. At the same time, it ought to be observed again in this place, that, as I have stated a little before, the reason why they ascribe their victories wholly to God is, that they were unable to arrive at such a consummation by their own sword or their own bow. When we are led to consider how great is our own weakness, and how worthless we are without God, this contrast much more clearly illustrates the grace of God. They again declare, (verse 7,) that they were saved by the power of God, and that he also had chased away and put to shame their enemies.
8. In God we will boast 136 all the day This is the conclusion of the first part of the psalm. To express the meaning in a few words, they acknowledge, that in all ages the goodness of God had been so great towards the children of Abraham, that it furnished them with continual matter of thanksgiving. As if the thing were still present to their view, they acknowledge that, without ceasing, they ought to give praise to God, because they had flourished and triumphed, not merely for one age, or a short period of time, but because they had continued to do so successively from age to age, 137 for whatever prosperity had befallen them, they ascribe it to the grace of God. And, certainly, it is then that men experience from the prosperity which befalls them, a holy and a well-regulated joy, when it bursts forth in the praises of God. 138 Let us then, in the first place, bear in mind that this verse relates to the time of joy and prosperity in which God manifested his favor towards his people; secondly, that the faithful here manifest that they are not ungrateful, inasmuch as, having laid aside all vain boasting, they confess that all the victories by which they had become great and renowned proceeded from God, and that it was by his power alone that they had hitherto continued to exist, and had been preserved in safety; and, thirdly, that it was not only once or twice that matter of joy had been afforded them, but that this existed for a long time, inasmuch as God had manifested towards them, during a long and uninterrupted period, divers proofs and tokens of his paternal favor, so that the continuance, and, so to speak, the long experience they had had of it, ought to have been the means of confirming their hope.
9. Nevertheless thou hast abhorred us, 139 and put us to shame: and thou goest not forth with our armies. 10. Thou hast made us to turn back from the enemy: and they that hate us have made of us a spoil for themselves. 11. Thou hast given us as sheep for food: and thou hast scattered us among the heathen. 12. Thou hast sold thy people, and not become rich, 140 and thou hast not increased the price of them. 13. Thou hast made us a reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and derision to them that are round about us. 14. Thou hast made us a byword among the heathen, and a nodding of the head among the people.
9. Nevertheless thou hast abhorred us Here follows a complaint, in which they bewail their present miseries and extreme calamity. There is here described such a change as showed not only that God had ceased to exercise towards them his accustomed favor, but also, that he was openly adverse and hostile to his people. First, they complain that they have been rejected as through hatred, for such is the proper import of the word זנחת, zanachta, which, along with others, I have translated abhorred If, however, any would rather translate it to forget, or to be cast off, I have no great objection to it. They next add, that they had been put to shame, namely, because it must necessarily follow that every thing should go ill with them when deprived of the protection of God. This they declare immediately after, when they say, that God no longer goes forth with their armies — goes forth as their leader or standard-bearer when they go forth to war.
10. Thou hast made us to turn back from the enemy. Here the people of God still further complain, that he had made them to flee before their enemies, and had given them up as a prey to be devoured by them. As the saints firmly believe that men are strong and valiant only in so far as God upholds them by his secret power, they also conclude, that when men flee, and are seized with trembling, it is God who strikes them with terror, so that the poor wretched creatures are deprived of reason, and both their skill and courage fail them. The expression here used is taken from the Law, De 32:30, where Moses says,
“How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had shut them up?”
The faithful, fully persuaded of this truth, do not ascribe to fortune the change which had passed over them, that those who were wont vigorously and fearlessly to assail their enemies, were now terrified by their very appearance; but they feel assured that it was by the appointment of heaven that they were thus discomfited, and made to flee before their enemies. And as they formerly confessed that the strength which they had hitherto possessed was the gift of God, so, on the other hand, they also acknowledge that the fear by which they are now actuated was inflicted upon them as a punishment by God. And when God thus deprived them of courage, they say that they are exposed to the will of their enemies; for in this sense I interpret the word למו, lamo, which I have rendered, for themselves, namely, that their enemies destroyed them at their pleasure and without any resistance, as their prey.
To the same purpose is that other comparison, (verse 11) in which they say that they were given as sheep for food 141 By this the prophet intimates, that being already vanquished previous to the battle, they fell down, as it were, upon the earth before their enemies, ready to be devoured by them, 142 and not fit for any thing else than to gratify their insatiable cruelty. It ought to be observed, that when the faithful represent God as the author of their calamities, it is not in the way of murmuring against him, but that they may with greater confidence seek relief, as it were, from the same hand which smote and wounded them. It is certainly impossible that those who impute their miseries to fortune can sincerely have recourse to God, or look for help and salvation from him. If, therefore, we would expect a remedy from God for our miseries, we must believe that they befall us not by fortune or mere chance, but that they are inflicted upon us properly by his hand. Having stated that they were thus abandoned to the will of their enemies, they add, at the same time, that they were scattered among the heathen: a dispersion which was a hundred times more grievous to them than death. The whole glory and felicity of that people consisted in this, that, being united under one God and one King, they formed one body; and that such being the case, it was a sign that the curse of God lay heavy upon them to be mingled among the heathen, and scattered hither and thither like broken members.
12 Thou hast sold thy people, and not become rich. In saying that they were sold without any gain, it is meant that they were exposed to sale as slaves that are contemptible, and of no value. In the second clause, too, And hast not increased the price of them, there seems to be an allusion to the custom of exposing things to auction, and selling them to the highest bidder. We know that those slaves who were sold were not delivered to the buyers till the price of them had been increased by bidding. Thus the faithful mean, that they were cast out as being altogether worthless, so that their condition had been worse than that of any bond-slave. 143 And as they rather appeal to God than turn to their enemies, of whose pride and cruelty they had just cause to complain, let us learn from this, that there is nothing better, or more advantageous for us in our adversity, than to give ourselves to meditation upon the providence and judgment of God. When men trouble us, it is no doubt the devil who drives them to it, and it is with him we have to do; but we must, notwithstanding, raise our thoughts to God himself, that we may know that we are proved and tried by him, either to chastise us, or to exercise our patience, or to subdue the sinful desires of our flesh, or to humble us and train us to the practice of self-denial. And when we hear that the Fathers who lived under the Law were treated so ignominiously, there is no reason why we should lose courage by any outrage or ill treatment, if God should at any time see meet to subject us to it. It is not here said simply that God sold some people, but that he sold his own people, as if his own inheritance were of no estimation in his sight. Even at this day, we may in our prayers still make the same complaint, provided we, at the same time, make use of this example, for the purpose of supporting and establishing our faith, so that, however much afflicted we may be, our hearts may not fail us. In Isa 52:3, God, using the same form of speech, says that he sold his people without price; but there it is to be understood in a different sense, namely, to show that he will have no difficulty in redeeming them, because he is under no obligation to those that bought them, and had received nothing from them in return.
13 Thou hast made us a reproach to our neighbors Here the Psalmist speaks of their neighbors, who were all actuated either by some secret ill-will, or avowed enmity to the people of God. And certainly it often happens, that neighborhood, which ought to be the means of preserving mutual friendship, engenders all discord and strife. But there was a special reason in respect of the Jews; for they had taken possession of the country in spite of all men, and their religion being hateful to others, so to speak, served as a trumpet to stir up war, and inflamed their neighbors with rage against them. Many, too, cherished towards them a feeling of jealousy, such as the Idumeans, who were inflated on the ground of their circumcision, and imagined that they also worshipped the God of Abraham as well as the Jews. But what proved the greatest calamity to them was, that they were exposed to the reproach and derision of those who hated them on the ground of their worship of the true God. The faithful illustrate still farther the greatness of their calamity by another circumstance, telling us, in the last clause of the verse, that they were met by reproaches on all sides; for they were beset round about by their enemies, so that they would never have enjoyed one moment of peace unless God had miraculously preserved them. Nay, they add still farther, (verse 14,) that they were a proverb, a byword, or jest, even among the nations that were far off. The word משל, mashal, which is translated proverb, might be taken in the sense of a heavy imprecation or curse, as well as of a byword or jest; but the sense will be substantially the same, namely, that there were no people under heaven held in greater detestation, insomuch that their very name was bandied about every where in proverbial allusions, as a term of reproach. To the same purpose also is the wagging, or shaking of the head, which occurs in Ps 22, of which we have already spoken. There can be no doubt that the faithful recognised this as inflicted upon them by the vengeance of God, of which mention was made in the Law. In order to arouse themselves to the consideration of the judgments of God, they carefully compared with the threatenings of God all the punishments which he inflicted upon them. But the Law had declared beforehand, in express terms, this derision of the Gentiles, which they now relate as a thing that had come to pass, (De 28:3.) Moreover, when it is said, among the heathen, and among the people, the repetition is very emphatic and expressive; for it was a thing quite unseemly and intolerable, that the heathen nations should presume to torment with their scoffings the chosen people of God, and revile them by their blasphemies at their pleasure. That the godly complained not of these things without cause is abundantly obvious from a passage in Cicero, in his oration in defense of Flaccus, in which that heathen orator, with his accustomed pride, scoffs no less against God than against the Jews, asserting that it was perfectly clear that they were a nation hated of the gods, inasmuch as they had often, and, as it were, from age to age, been wasted with so many misfortunes, and in the end subjected to a most miserable bondage, and kept, as it were, under the feet of the Romans. 144
15. My reproach is daily 145 before me, and the shame of my face hath quite covered me, 16. Because of the voice of him who reproached me; because of the face of the enemy and the avenger. 17. All this has come upon us, and we have not forgotten thee, nor dealt falsely in thy covenant: 18. Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps declined from thy path. 19. Although thou hast wasted us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death: 20. If we have forgotten the name of our God, and have stretched out our hands to a strange god: 21. Shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart.
15 My reproach is daily before me. The Hebrew words כלהיום, col-hayom, mean all the day, and denote long continuance: but they may be understood in two ways, either for the whole or entire day, from morning to evening, or for continued succession of days. According to either of these interpretations, the meaning is, that there is no end to their misfortunes. As to the change of the number from the plural to the singular, it is not at all inconsistent that what is spoken in the name of the Church should be uttered, as it were, in the person of one man. The reason is added why they were so overwhelmed with shame, that they dared not to lift up their eyes and their face, namely, because they had no respite, but were incessantly subjected to the insolence and reproach of their enemies. Had they been allowed to hide themselves in some corner, they might have endured, as well as they were able, their calamities in secret; but when their enemies openly derided them with the greatest insolence, it served to redouble the wound inflicted upon them. They, therefore, complain that their calamities had accumulated to such an extent, that they were forced unceasingly to hear blasphemies and bitter reproaches. They describe their enemies by the epithet avengers, a term which, among the Hebrews, denotes barbarity and cruelty, accompanied with pride, as we have remarked on the 8th Psalm
17 All this has come upon us, etc. As they have already attributed to God all the afflictions which they endured, if they should now say that they were undeservedly afflicted, it would be the same thing as to accuse God of injustice; and thus what is here spoken would no longer be a holy prayer, but rather an impious blasphemy. It is, however, to be observed, that the faithful, although in their adversities they do not perceive any obvious reason for being so dealt with, yet they rest assured of this, and regard it as a fixed principle, that God has some good reasons for treating them so severely. At the same time, it is proper to observe, that the godly do not speak in this place of the time past, but rather allege their patient endurance, which was no small token of their piety, since, in the most humble manner, they thus bowed their neck to the yoke of God. We see how the great majority of men murmur and obstinately fret against God, like refractory horses which rage furiously against their masters, and strike them with their feet. And, therefore, we know that the man who, in affliction, imposes a holy restraint upon himself, that he may not by any impatience be carried away from the path of duty, has made no inconsiderable attainments in the fear of God. It is an easy matter even for hypocrites to bless God in the time of their prosperity; but as soon as he begins to deal hardly with them, they break forth into a rage against him. Accordingly, the faithful declare that, although so many afflictions as they endured tended to turn them aside from the right path, they did not forget God, but always served him, even when he did not show himself favorable and merciful towards them. They do not, therefore, proclaim their virtues in a former and distant period of their history, but only allege, that even in the midst of afflictions they steadfastly kept the covenant of God It is well known, that long before the persecution of Antiochus, there were many abuses and corruptions which provoked the vengeance of God against them, so that, in respect of that period, they had no ground to boast of such integrity as is here described. True it is that, as we shall very soon see, God spared them, thus showing that they had been afflicted more for his name’s sake than for their own sins; but the forbearance which God exercised towards them in this respect was not sufficient to warrant them to plead exemption from guilt. We must, therefore, consider that in this place they do nothing more than allege their own patience, in that, amidst such grievous and hard temptations, they had not turned aside from the service of God. In the first place, they affirm, We have not forgotten thee: for, indeed, afflictions are, as it were, like so many clouds which conceal heaven from our view, so that God might then readily slip from our remembrance, as if we were far removed from him. They add, secondly, We have not dealt falsely in thy covenant: for, as I have said, the wickedness of men discovers itself more especially when they are tried more severely than they had anticipated. Thirdly, they declare that their heart had not turned back And, lastly, that their footsteps declined not from the paths of God. As God is daily inviting us, so our hearts must be always ready to proceed in the paths into which he calls us. Hence follows the direction of our ways; for by our outward works, and by our whole life, we testify that our heart is unfeignedly devoted to God. Instead of the translation, Nor have our steps declined, which I have given, some suggest another reading, which is not without some degree of plausibility, namely, Thou hast made our steps to decline; for, in the first place, the term תט, tet, may be so rendered; and, secondly, according to the arrangement of the words, there is no negative in this clause. As to the meaning, however, I am not at all of their opinion; for they connect this passage with that in Isa 63:17,
“O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways?”
The complaint which is here made amounts rather to this, That the faithful are like poor wretched creatures wandering in desert places, seeing God had withdrawn his hand from them. The expression, The paths of God, does not always refer to doctrine, but sometimes to prosperous and desirable events.
19 Although thou hast broken us in the place of dragons. In the Hebrew it is, For thou hast broken us, etc.; but the causal particle, כי, ki, according to the idiom of the Hebrew language, is often taken in the sense of although or when. 146 And certainly it must be so rendered in this place, for these three verses are connected, and the sentence is incomplete till the end of the words, For he knoweth the secrets of the heart. The faithful repeat more largely what we have already seen, namely, that although plunged into the greatest depth of miseries, yet they continued steadfast in their resolution, and in the right way. If we consider the distressing circumstances in which they were placed, it will not appear to us a hyperbolical mode of speech, when they say that they were broken even within the depths of the sea; for by the place of dragons I understand not the deserts and solitary places, but the deepest gulfs of the sea. Accordingly, the word תנים, tannim, which others translate dragons, 147 I would rather render whales, 148 as it is also understood in many other places. This interpretation is obviously confirmed by the following clause, in which they complain that they had been covered with the shadow of death, which implies that they were swallowed up of death itself. Let us, however, remember, that in these words the Holy Ghost dictates to us a form of prayer; and that, therefore, we are enjoined to cultivate a spirit of invincible fortitude and courage, which may serve to sustain us under the weight of all the calamities we may be called to endure, so that we may be able to testify of a truth, that even when reduced to the extremity of despair, we have never ceased to trust in God; that no temptations, however unexpected, could expel his fear from our hearts; and, in fine, that we were never so overwhelmed by the burden of our afflictions, however great, as not to have our eyes always directed to him. But it is proper for us to notice still more particularly the style of speaking here employed by the faithful. In order to show that they still continued steadfastly in the pure service of God, they affirm that they have not lifted up their hearts or their hands to any but to the God of Israel alone. It would not have been enough for them to have cherished some confused notion of the Deity: it was necessary that they should receive in its purity the true religion. Even those who murmur against God may be constrained to acknowledge some Divinity; but they frame for themselves a god after their own pleasure. And this is an artifice of the devil, who, because he cannot at once eradicate from our hearts all sense of religion, endeavors to overthrow our faith, by suggesting to our minds these devices — that we must seek another God; or that the God whom we have hitherto served must be appeased after another manner; or else that the assurance of his favor must be sought elsewhere than in the Law and the Gospel. Since, then, it is a much more difficult matter for men, amidst the tossings and waves of adversity, to continue steadfast and tranquil in the true faith, we must carefully observe the protestation which the Holy Fathers here make, that even when reduced to the lowest extremity of distress by calamities of every kind, they nevertheless did not cease to trust in the true God.
This they express still more clearly in the following clause, in which they say, We have not stretched out our hands 149 to a strange god. By these words they intimate, that, contented with God alone, they did not suffer their hopes to be divided on different objects, nor gazed around them in search of other means of assistance. Hence we learn, that those whose hearts are thus divided and distracted by various expectations are forgetful of the true God, to whom we fail to yield the honor which is due to him, if we do not repose with confidence in him alone. And certainly, in the true and rightful service of God, faith and supplication which proceeds from it hold the first place: for we are guilty of depriving him of the chief part of his glory, when we seek apart from him in the least degree our own welfare. Let us then bear in mind, that it is a true test of our piety, when, being plunged into the lowest depths of disasters, we lift up our eyes, our hopes, and our prayers, to God alone. And it only serves to demonstrate more convincingly and clearly the impiety of Popery, when, after having confessed their faith in the one true God with the mouth, its rotaries the next moment degrade his glory by ascribing it to created objects. They indeed excuse themselves by alleging, that in having recourse to Saint Christopher and other saints of their own making, they do not claim for them the rank of Deity, but only employ them as intercessors with God to obtain his favor. It is, however, well known to every one, that the form of the prayers which they address to the saints, 150 is in no respects different from those prayers which they present to God. Besides, although we should yield this point to them, it will still be a frivolous excuse to pretend that they are seeking advocates or intercessors for themselves. This is as much as to say, that Christ is not sufficient for them, or rather, that his office is wholly lost sight of among them. Moreover, we should carefully observe the scope of this passage. The faithful declare, that they did not stretch forth their hands to other gods, because it is an error too common among men to forsake God, and to seek for other means of relief when they find that their afflictions continue to oppress them. So long as we are gently and affectionately treated of God we resort to him, but as soon as any adversity befalls us we begin to doubt. And if we are pressed still further, or if there be no end to our afflictions, the very continuance of them tempts us to despair; and despair generates various kinds of false confidence. Hence arises a multitude of new gods framed after the fancy of men. Of the lifting up of the hands we have spoken elsewhere.
21 Shall not God search this out? We have here a solemn and emphatic protestation, in which the people of God dare to appeal to him as the judge of their integrity and uprightness. From this it appears, that they did not plead their cause openly before men, but communed with themselves as if they had been before the judgment-seat of God; and moreover, as a token of still greater confidence, they add, that nothing is hidden from God. Why is it that hypocrites often call God to witness, if it is not because they imagine that, by concealing their wickedness under some specious disguise, they have escaped the judgment of God? and thus they would represent the character of God to be different from what it is, as if by their deceptions they could dazzle his eyes. Whenever, therefore, we come before God, let us at the same time remember, that there is nothing to be gained by any vain pretense in his presence, inasmuch as he knows the heart.
22. Surely for thy sake we are killed all the day; we are accounted as sheep for slaughter. 23. Arise, O Lord! why sleepest thou? awake, do not forget us or ever. 151 24. Why hidest thou thy face? wilt thou forget our misery and our affliction 152 25. For our soul is humbled to the dust: our belly cleaveth to the earth. 26. Arise for our help, and redeem us, for thy goodness’ sake.
22 Surely for thy sake we are killed all the day. Here the faithful urge another reason why God should show mercy to them, namely, that they are subjected to sufferings not on account of crimes committed by themselves, but simply because the ungodly, from hatred to the name of God, are opposed to them. “This,” it may be said, “seems at first sight a foolish complaint, for the answer which Socrates gave to his wife was apparently more to the purpose, when, upon her lamenting that he was about to die wrongfully, 153 he reproved her saying, That it was better for him to die innocently than from any fault of his own. And even the consolation which Christ sets forth
‘Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,’
seems to differ widely from the language here expressed by the people of God. It seems also opposed to what Peter says,
‘Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed;
but let him glorify God on this behalf.’ —1Pe 4:16,
“To this I answer, That although it is the greatest alleviation of our sorrow that the cause for which we suffer is common to us with Christ himself, yet it is neither in vain nor out of place that the faithful here plead with God that they suffer wrongfully for his sake, in order that he may the more vigorously set himself for their defense. It is right that he should have respect to the maintenance of his glory, which the wicked endeavor to overthrow, when they insolently persecute those who serve him. And from this it appears the more clearly that this psalm was composed when the people languished in captivity, or else when Antiochus laid waste the Church, because religion was at that time the cause of suffering. The Babylonians were enraged by the constancy of the people, when they perceived that the whole body of the Jews, vanquished and routed as they were, ceased not on that account to condemn the superstitions of the country; and the rage of Antiochus was wholly bent upon extinguishing entirely the name of God. Moreover, what made the thing appear more strange and difficult to bear was, that God, so far from repressing the insolence and the wrongs inflicted by the wicked, left them, on the contrary, to continue in their cruelty, and gave them, as it were, loose reins. Accordingly, the godly declare that they are killed all the day long, and that they are counted of no more value than sheep for slaughter It is, however, proper always to bear in mind, what I have already remarked, that they were not so free from all blame as that God, in afflicting them, might not justly chastise them for their sins. But whilst in his incomparable goodness he fully pardons all our sins, he yet allows us to be exposed to unmerited persecutions, that we may with greater alacrity glory in bearing the cross with Christ, and thereby become partakers with him in his blessed resurrection. We have already said, that there was no other reason why the rage of the enemy was so inflamed against them, but that the people would not revolt from the law, and renounce the worship of the true God. It now remains for us to apply this doctrine to our own circumstances; and, first, let us consider that it becomes us, after the example of the fathers, patiently to submit to the afflictions by which it is necessary to seal the confession of our faith; and, secondly, that even in the deepest afflictions we must continue to call upon the name of God and abide in his fear. Paul, however, in his Epistle to the Romans, chapter 8:36, proceeds still farther; for he quotes this not only by way of example, but also affirms that the condition of the Church in all ages is here portrayed. Thus, then, we ought to regard it as a settled point, that a state of continual warfare in bearing the cross is enjoined upon us by divine appointment. Sometimes, it is true, a truce or respite may be granted us; for God, has compassion upon our infirmity: but although the sword of persecution is not always unsheathed against us, yet, as we are the members of Christ, it behoves us always to be ready to bear the cross with him. Lest, therefore, the severity of the cross should dismay us, let us always have present to our view this condition of the Church, that as we are adopted in Christ, we are appointed to the slaughter. If we neglect to do this, the same thing will befall us which happens to many apostates; for as it is in their judgment too severe and wretched a state, even while they live, to be continually dying, to be exposed to the mockery of others, and not to have one moment free from fear, — to rid themselves of that necessity they shamefully forsake and deny Christ. In order, therefore, that weariness, or dread of the cross, may not root up from our hearts true godliness, let us continually reflect upon this, that it behoves us to drink the cup which God puts into our hands, and that no one can be a Christian who does not dedicate himself to God.
23 Arise, O Lord! why sleepest thou? Here the saints desire that God, having pity upon them, would at length send them help and deliverance. Although God allows the saints to plead with him in this babbling manner, when in their prayers they desire him to rise up or awake; yet it is necessary that they should be fully persuaded that he keeps watch for their safety and defense. We must guard against the notion of Epicurus, who framed to himself a god who, having his abode in heaven, 154 delighted only in idleness and pleasure. But as the insensibility of our nature is so great, that we do not at once comprehend the care which God has of us, the godly here request that he would be pleased to give some evidence that he was neither forgetful of them nor slow to help them. We must, indeed, firmly believe that God ceases not to regard us, although he appears not to do so; yet as such an assurance is of faith, and not of the flesh, that is to say, is not natural to us, 155 the faithful familiarly give utterance before God to this contrary sentiment, which they conceive from the state of things as it is presented to their view; and in doing so, they discharge from their breasts those morbid affections which belong to the corruption of our nature, in consequence of which faith then shines forth in its pure and native character. If it is objected, that prayer, than which nothing is more holy, is defiled, when some froward imagination of the flesh is mingled with it, I confess that this is true; but in using this freedom, which the Lord vouchsafes to us, let us consider that, in his goodness and mercy, by which he sustains us, he wipes away this fault, that our prayers may not be defiled by it.
25 For our soul is humbled to the dust The people of God again deplore the greatness of their calamities, and in order that God may be the more disposed to help them, they declare to him that they are afflicted in no ordinary manner. By the metaphors which they here employ, they mean not only that they are cast down, but also that they are crushed and laid upon the earth, so that they are not able to rise again. Some take the word soul for the body, so that there would be in this verse a repetition of the same sentiment; but I would rather take it for the part in which the life of man consists; as if they had said, We are cast down to the earth, and lie prostrate upon our belly, without any hope of getting up again. After this complaint they subjoin a prayer, (verse 26,) that God would arise for their help By the word redeem they mean not ordinary kind of help, for there was no other means of securing their preservation but by redeeming them. And yet there can be no doubt, that they were diligently employed in meditating upon the great redemption from which all the deliverances which God is daily effecting in our behalf, when he defends us from dangers by various means, flow as streams from their source. In a previous part of the psalm, they had boasted of the steadfastness of their faith; but to show us that, in using this language, they boasted not in their own merits, they do not claim here some recompense for what they had done and suffered for God. They are contented to ascribe their salvation to the unmerited goodness of God as the alone cause of it.
Dr Geddes supposes with Calvin that this psalm was composed during the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes; and that Matthias may have been its author. See 1 Macc. 1:0, 1 Macc. 2:0. Walford refers it to the same period. There is, certainly, no part of the history of the Jews with which we are acquainted, to which the statement made in the 17th verse is so applicable as to the time when they were so cruelly persecuted for their religion by Antiochus Epiphanes, King of Syria, and when, notwithstanding, the great mass of the people displayed an invincible determination to keep themselves from the pollutions of idolatry, and to adhere to the worship of the true God.
That is, the Canaanites.
“Ascavoir, nos peres.” — Fr. marg. “Namely, our fathers.” Israel is here compared to a vine planted in the promised land. See Ex 15:17; Isa 5:1-7. See also Ps 80:8, where this elegant figure is carried out with remarkable force and beauty of language.
“Ascavoir, nos peres.” — Fr. marg. “That is, our fathers.” The reading in our English version is, “and cast them out,” namely, the heathen. But Calvin’s rendering seems to be more suitable to the genius of the Hebrew poetry, and it also agrees with the meaning of the original. “The whole metaphor,” says Dr Geddes, “is taken from the vine, or some other luxuriant tree. In our common version, ‘and cast them out,’ the parallelism is lost, and the beauty of the sentence disappears.” The Hebrew verb here used is generally applied to the germination of plants, or to the shooting and spreading forth of branches. God caused his chosen people to spread abroad, to cast or shoot forth like the branches of a vine.
Geddes reads, “Our King” “The Hebrew,” says he, “has my King; but as the Psalmist speaks in the name of his nation, the plural number is preferable in English, as in numerous other instances.” “The speaker throughout the psalm,” says Walford, “is the Church, which accounts for the use of both the singular and plural numbers in different parts.”
The allusion is to the pushing, striking, or butting of oxen and other animals with their horns, and means to vanquish or subdue, (De 33:17; 1Ki 22:11; Da 8:4.) “Literally,” says Dr Adam Clarke, “We will toss them in the air with our horn; a metaphor taken from an ox or bull tossing the dogs into the air which attack him.”
Hammond reads, “We have praised God.” He considers the preposition ב, beth, prefixed to the name of God, as a pleonasm.
“Mais que la chose a continue, d’aage en aage.” — Fr.
“Quand d’icelle ils entrent a rendre louanges a Dieu.” — Fr. “When from it they are led to give praise to God.”
“Ou, mis en oubli.” — Fr. marg. “Or, hast forgotten us.”
”C’est, sans aucun profit pour toy.” — Fr. marg. “That is, without any profit to thee.”
“This very strongly and strikingly intimates the extent of the persecution and slaughter to which they were exposed; there being no creature in the world of which such vast numbers are constantly slaughtered as of sheep, for the subsistence of man. The constancy of such slaughter is also mentioned in verse 22, as illustrating the continual oppression to which the Hebrews were subject.” — Illustrated Commentary upon the Bible.
“Prests a estre par eux devorez.” — Fr.
As if they had said, Thou hast sold us to our enemies at whatever price they would give; like a person who sells things that are useless at any price, not so much for the sake of gain, as to get quit of what he considers of no value and burdensome.
“Et comme tenue sous les pieds des Romains.” — Fr.
“Ou, tout le jour.” — Fr. marg. “Or, all the day.”
“Il y a en Hebrieu, Car tu nous as, etc. Mais souvent selon la maniere de la langue Hebraique, Car, se prend pour Combien que, ou Quand.” — Fr.
“Lequel les autres traduisent dragons.” This is the sense in which the expression is understood by several eminent critics. Aquila explains it thus: “In a desert place where great serpents are found;” and Bishop Hare thus: “In desert places among wild beasts and serpents. The place of dragons, observes Bishop Mant, appears to mean the wilderness; in illustration of which, it may be noticed from Dr Shaw, that ‘vipers, especially in the wilderness of Sin, which might be called the inheritance of dragons, (see Mal 1:3,) were very dangerous and troublesome; not only our camels, but the Arabs who attended them, running every moment the risk of being bitten.’” Viewed in this light, we must understand the language either as meaning that the Israelites had been driven from their dwellings and places of abode, and compelled to dwell in some gloomy wilderness infested by serpents; or that the fierce and cruel persecutors into whose hands God had delivered them are compared to serpents, and that the circumstances in which the chosen tribes were now placed resembled those of a people who had fallen into a wilderness, where they heard nothing but the hissing of serpents, and the howlings of beasts of prey.
Williams reads, “In the place of sea-monsters, perhaps crocodiles;” and thinks the allusion is to a shipwreck.
That is, in the attitude of worship.
“Que le formulaire des prieres qui ils font aux saincts.” — Fr.
Fry reads the last clause, “Awake, do not fail for ever;” and observes, “The term is sometimes applied to the failing of a stream through drought.”
“Et oublies nostre affliction et nostre oppression?” — Fr. “And forgettest our affliction and our oppression?”
“Quand elle se lamentant de ce qu’on le faisoit-mourir a tort.” — Fr.
“Lequel estant au ciel.” — Fr.
“C’est dire, en nostre sens naturel.” — Fr.