Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 9: Psalms, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
There have always been hypocrites in the Church, men who have placed religion in a mere observance of outward ceremonies, and among the Jews there were many who turned their attention entirely to the figures of the Law, without regarding the truth which was represented under them. They conceived that nothing more was demanded of them but their sacrifices and other rites. The following psalm is occupied with the reprehension of this gross error, and the prophet exposes in severe terms the dishonor which is cast upon the name of God by confounding ceremony with religion, showing that the worship of God is spiritual, and consists of two parts, prayer and thanksgiving.
A Song of Asaph. 238
The prophet holds up the ingratitude of such persons to our reprobation, as proving themselves unworthy of the honor which has been placed upon them, and debasing themselves by a degenerate use of this world. From this let us learn, that if we are miserable here, it must be by our own fault; for could we discern and properly improve the many mercies which God has bestowed upon us, we would not want, even on earth, a foretaste of eternal blessedness. Of this, however we fall short through our corruption. The wicked, even while on earth, have a pre-eminency over the beasts of the field in reason and intelligence, which form a part of the image of God; but in reference to the end which awaits them the prophet puts both upon a level, and declares, that being divested of all their vain-glory, they will eventually perish like the beasts. Their souls will indeed survive, but it is not the less true that death will consign them to everlasting disgrace.
1. The God of gods, even Jehovah, hath spoken, and called the earth 239 from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof. 2. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined. 3. Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence; a fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him. 4. He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth to judge his people. 5. Gather my meek ones (will he say 240 ) together unto me, those who strike a covenant with me over sacrifices.
1. The God of gods, even Jehovah, 241 hath spoken The inscription of this psalm bears the name of Asaph; but whether he was the author of it, or merely received it as chief singer from the hand of David, cannot be known. This, however, is a matter of little consequence. The opinion has been very generally entertained, that the psalm points to the period of the Church’s renovation, and that the design of the prophet is to apprise the Jews of the coming abrogation of their figurative worship under the Law. That the Jews were subjected to the rudiments of the world, which continued till the Church’s majority, and the arrival of what the apostle calls “the fullness of times,” (Ga 4:4,) admits of no doubt; the only question is, whether the prophet must here be considered as addressing the men of his own age, and simply condemning the abuse and corruption of the legal worship, or as predicting the future kingdom of Christ? From the scope of the psalm, it is sufficiently apparent that the prophet does in fact interpret the Law to his contemporaries, with a view of showing them that the ceremonies, while they existed, were of no importance whatever by themselves, or otherwise than connected with a higher meaning. Is it objected, that God never called the whole world except upon the promulgation of the Gospel, and that the doctrine of the Law was addressed only to one peculiar people? the answer is obvious, that the prophet in this place describes the whole world as convened not for the purpose of receiving one common system of faith, but of hearing God plead his cause with the Jews in its presence. The appeal is of a parallel nature with others which we find in Scripture:
“Give ear, O ye heavens! and I will speak; and hear, O earth! the words of my mouths” (De 32:1;)
or as in another place,
“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death,” (De 30:19;)
and again Isaiah,
“Hear, O heaven! and give ear, O earth! for the Lord hath spoken,” (Isa 1:2.) 242
This vehement mode of address was required in speaking to hypocrites, that they might be roused from their complacent security, and their serious attention engaged to the message of God. The Jews had special need to be awakened upon the point to which reference is here made. Men are naturally disposed to outward show in religion, and, measuring God by themselves, imagine that an attention to ceremonies constitutes the sum of their duty. There was a strong disposition among the Jews to rest in an observance of the figures of the Law, and it is well known with what severity the prophets all along reprehended this superstition, by which the worst and most abandoned characters were led to arrogate a claim to piety, and hide their abominations under the specious garb of godliness. The prophet, therefore, required to do more than simply expose the defective nature of that worship which withdraws the attention of men from faith and holiness of heart to outward ceremonies; it was necessary that, in order to check false confidence and banish insensibility, he should adopt the style of severe reproof. God is here represented as citing all the nations of the earth to his tribunal, not with the view of prescribing the rule of piety to an assembled world, or collecting a church for his service, but with the design of alarming the hypocrite, and terrifying him out of his self-complacency. It would serve as a spur to conviction, thus to be made aware that the whole world was summoned as a witness to their dissimulation, and that they would be stripped of that pretended piety of which they were disposed to boast. It is with a similar object that he addresses Jehovah as the God of gods, to possess their minds with a salutary terror, and dissuade them from their vain attempts to elude his knowledge. That this is his design will be made still more apparent from the remaining context, where we are presented with a formidable description of the majesty of God, intended to convince the hypocrite of the vanity of those childish trifles with which he would evade the scrutiny of so great and so strict a judge.
To obviate an objection which might be raised against his doctrine in this psalm, that it was subversive of the worship prescribed by Moses, the prophet intimates that this judgment which he announced would be in harmony with the Law. When God speaks out of Zion he necessarily sanctions the authority of the Law; and the Prophets, when at any time they make use of this form of speech, declare themselves to be interpreters of the Law. That holy mountain was not chosen of man’s caprice, and therefore stands identified with the Law. The prophet thus cuts off any pretext which the Jews might allege to evade his doctrine, by announcing that such as concealed their wickedness, under the specious covert of ceremonies, would not be condemned of God by any new code of religion, but by that which was ministered originally by Moses. He gives Zion the honorable name of the perfection of beauty, because God had chosen it for his sanctuary, the place where his name should be invoked, and where his glory should be manifested in the doctrine of the Law.
3. Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence 243 He repeats that God would come, in order to confirm his doctrine, and more effectually arouse them. He would come, and should not always keep silence, lest they should be encouraged to presume upon his forbearance. Two reasons may be assigned why the prophet calls God our God He may be considered as setting himself, and the comparatively small number of the true fearers of the Lord, in opposition to the hypocrites whom he abhors, claiming God to be his God, and not theirs, as they were disposed to boast; or rather, he speaks as one of the people, and declares that the God who was coming to avenge the corruptions of his worship was the same God whom all the children of Abraham professed to serve. He who shall come, as if he had said, is our God, the same in whom we glory, who established his covenant with Abraham, and gave us his Law by the hand of Moses. He adds, that God would come with fire and tempest, in order to awaken a salutary fear in the secure hearts of the Jews, that they might learn to tremble at the judgments of God, which they had hitherto regarded with indifference and despised, and in allusion to the awful manifestation which God made of himself from Sinai, (Ex 19:16; see also Heb 12:18.) The air upon that occasion resounded with thunders and the noise of trumpets, the heavens were illuminated with lightnings, and the mountain was in flames, it being the design of God to procure a reverential submission to the Law which he announced. And it is here intimated, that God would make a similarly terrific display of his power, in coming to avenge the gross abuses of his holy religion.
4. He shall call to the heavens from above It is plain from this verse for what purpose God, as he had already announced, would call upon the earth. This was to witness the settlement of his controversy with his own people the Jews, against whom judgment was to be pronounced, not in the ordinary manner as by his prophets, but with great solemnity before the whole world. The prophet warns the hypocritical that they must prepare to be driven from their hiding-place, that their cause would be decided in the presence of men and angels, and that they would he dragged without excuse before that dreadful assembly. It may be asked, why the prophet represents the true fearers of the Lord as cited to his bar, when it is evident that the remonstrance which follows in the psalm is addressed to the hypocritical and degenerate portion of the Jews? To this I answer, that God here speaks of the whole Church, for though a great part of the race of Abraham had declined from the piety of their ancestors, yet he has a respect to the Jewish Church, as being his own institution. He speaks of them as his meek ones, to remind them of what they ought to be in consistency with their calling, and not as if they were all without exception patterns of godliness. The form of the address conveys a rebuke to those amongst them whose real character was far from corresponding with their profession. Others have suggested a more refined interpretation, as if the meaning were, Separate the small number of my sincere worshippers from the promiscuous multitude by whom my name is profaned, lest they too should afterwards be seduced to a vain religion of outward form. I do not deny that this agrees with the scope of the prophet. But I see no reason why a church, however universally corrupted, provided it contain a few godly members, should not be denominated, in honor of this remnant, the holy people of God. Interpreters have differed upon the last clause of the verse: Those who strike a covenant with me over sacrifices, Some think over is put for besides, or beyond, and that God commends his true servants for this, that they acknowledged something more to be required in his covenant than an observance of outward ceremonies, and were not chargeable with resting in the carnal figures of the Law. 244 Others think that the spiritual and true worship of God is here directly opposed to sacrifices; as if it had been said, Those who, instead of sacrifices, keep my covenant in the right and appointed manner, by yielding to me the sincere homage of their heart. But in my opinion, the prophet is here to be viewed as pointing out with commendation the true and genuine use of the legal worship; for it was of the utmost consequence that it should be known what was the real end for which God appointed sacrifices under the Law. The prophet here declares that sacrifices were of no value whatever except as seals of God’s covenant, an interpretative handwriting of submission to it, or in general as means employed for ratifying it. There is an allusion to the custom then universally prevalent of interposing sacrifices, that covenants might be made more solemn, and be more religiously observed. 245 In like manner, the design with which sacrifices were instituted by God was to bind his people more closely to himself, and to ratify and confirm his covenant. The passage is well worthy of our particular notice, as defining those who are to be considered the true members of the Church. They are such, on the one hand, as are characterised by the spirit of meekness, practising righteousness in their intercourse with the world; and such, on the other, as close in the exercise of a genuine faith with the covenant of adoption which God has proposed to them. This forms the true worship of God, as he has himself delivered it to us from heaven; and those who decline from it, whatever pretensions they may make to be considered a church of God, are excommunicated from it by the Holy Spirit. As to sacrifices or other ceremonies, they are of no value, except in so far as they seal to us the pure truth of God. All such rites, consequently, as have no foundation in the word of God, are unauthorised, and that worship which has not a distinct reference to the word is but a corruption of things sacred.
6. And the heavens shall declare his righteousness, for God is judge himself. Selah. 7. Hear, O my people! and I will speak; O Israel! and I will announce to thee: I am God, even thy God. 8. I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices, and thy burnt offerings are continually before me. 9. I will take no calf out of thy house, nor he-goats out of thy folds. 10. For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. 11. I know all the fowls of the mountains; and the wild beasts of the field are at my command. 12. If I am hungry, I will not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof. 13. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, 246 and drink the blood of goats?
6. And the heavens shall declare his righteousness. The Jews were vain enough to imagine that their idle and fantastic service was the perfection of righteousness; but they are here warned by the prophet, that God, who had seemed to connive at their folly, was about to reveal his own righteousness from heaven, and expose their miserable devices. “Think you,” as if he had said, “that God can take delight in the mockery of your deluded services? Though you send up the smoke of them to heaven, God will make known his righteousness in due time from above, and vindicate it from the dishonors done to it by your wicked inventions. The heavens themselves will attest your perfidy in despising true holiness, and corrupting the pure worship of God. He will no longer suffer your gratuitous aspersions of his character, as if he took no notice of the enmity which lurks under your pretended friendship.” There is thus a cogency in the prophet’s manner of treating his subject. Men are disposed to admit that God is judge, but, at the same time, to fabricate excuses for evading his judgment, and it was therefore necessary that the sentence which God was about to pronounce should be vindicated from the vain cavils which might be brought against it.
7. Hear, O my people! and I will speak. Hitherto the prophet has spoken as the herald of God, throwing out several expressions designed to alarm the minds of those whom he addressed. But from this to the end of the psalm God himself is introduced as the speaker; and to show the importance of the subject, he uses additional terms to awaken attention, calling them his own people, that he might challenge the higher authority to his words, and intimating, that the following address is not of a mere ordinary description, but an expostulation with them for the infraction of his covenant. Some read, I will testify against thee. But the reference, as we may gather from the common usage of Scripture, seems rather to be to a discussion of mutual claims. God would remind them of his covenant, and solemnly exact from them, as his chosen people, what was due according to the terms of it. He announces himself to be the God of Israel, that he may recall them to allegiance and subjection, and the repetition of his name is emphatical: as if he had said, When you would have me to submit to your inventions, how far is this audacity from that honor and reverence which belong to me? I am God, and therefore my majesty ought to repress presumption, and make all flesh keep silence when I speak; and among you, to whom I have made myself known as your God, I have still stronger claims to homage.
8 I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices, etc. God now proceeds to state the charge which he adduced against them. He declares, that he attached no value whatsoever to sacrifices in themselves considered. Not that he asserts this rite of the Jews to have been vain and useless, for in that case it never would have been instituted by God; but there is this difference betwixt religious exercises and others, that they can only meet the approbation of God when performed in their true spirit and meaning. On any other supposition they are deservedly rejected. Similar language we will find employed again and again by the prophets, as I have remarked in other places, and particularly in connection with the fortieth psalm. Mere outward ceremonies being therefore possessed of no value, God repudiates the idea that he had ever insisted upon them as the main thing in religion, or designed that they should be viewed in any other light than as helps to spiritual worship. Thus in Jer 7:22, he denies that he had issued any commandment regarding sacrifices; and the prophet Micah says,
“Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy?” — (Mic 6:7)
“I desire mercy,” he says in another place, (Ho 6:6,) “and not sacrifice.” The same doctrine is every where declared by the prophets. I might refer especially to the prophecies of Isaiah, chapter Isa. 1:12, Isa. 58:1, Isa. 266:3. The sacrifices of the ungodly are not only represented as worthless and rejected by the Lord, but as peculiarly calculated to provoke his anger. Where a right use has been made of the institution, and they have been observed merely as ceremonies for the confirmation and increase of faith, then they are described as being essentially connected with true religion; but when offered without faith, or, what is still worse, under the impression of their meriting the favor of God for such as continue in their sins, they are reprobated as a mere profanation of divine worship. It is evident, then, what God means when he says, I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices; he looked to something beyond these. The last clause of the verse may be understood as asserting that their burnt-offerings were before the eyes of the Lord to the producing even of satiety and disgust, as we find him saying, (Isa 1:13,) that they were “an abomination unto him.” There are some, however, who consider the negative in the beginning of the verse as applying to both clauses, and that God here declares that he did not design to reckon with them for any want of regularity in the observance of their sacrifices. It has been well suggested by some, that the relative may be understood, Thy burnt-offerings which are continually before me; as if he had said, According to the Law these are imperative; but I will bring no accusation against you at this time for omitting your sacrifices. 247
9 I will take no calf out thy house Two reasons are given in this and the succeeding verses to prove that he cannot set any value upon sacrifices. The first is, that supposing him to depend upon these, he needs not to be indebted for them to man, having all the fullness of the earth at his command; and the second, that he requires neither food nor drink as we do for the support of our infirm natures. Upon the first of these he insists in the ninth and three following verses, where he adverts to his own boundless possessions, that he may show his absolute independence of human offerings. He then points at the wide distinction betwixt himself and man, the latter being dependent for a frail subsistence upon meat and drink, while he is the self-existent One, and communicates life to all beside. There may be nothing new in the truths here laid down by the Psalmist; but, considering the strong propensity we have by nature to form our estimate of God from ourselves, and to degenerate into a carnal worship, they convey a lesson by no means unnecessary, and which contains profound wisdom, that man can never benefit God by any of his services, as we have seen in Ps 16:2, “My goodness extendeth not unto thee.” In the second place, God says that he does not require any thing for his own us but that, as he is sufficient in his own perfection, he has consulted the good of man in all that he has enjoined. We have a passage in Isaiah to a similar effect,
“The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me, and where is the place of my rest? For all these things hath mine hand made.” — (Isa. 66:1, 2,)
In these words
God asserts his absolute independence; for while the world had a beginning, he himself was from eternity. From this it follows, that as he subsisted when there was nothing without him which could contribute to his fullness, he must have in himself a glorious all-sufficiency.
14. Sacrifice unto God praise, 248 and pay thy vows 249 unto the Most High. 15. And call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.
These verses cast light upon the preceding context. Had it been stated in unqualified terms that sacrifices were of no value, we might have been perplexed to know why in that case they were instituted by God; but the difficulty disappears when we perceive that they are spoken of only in comparison with the true worship of God. From this we infer, that when properly observed, they were far from incurring divine condemnation. There is in all men by nature a strong and ineffaceable conviction that they ought to worship God. Indisposed to worship him in a pure and spiritual manner, it becomes necessary that they should invent some specious appearance as a substitute; and however clearly they may be persuaded of the vanity of such conduct, they persist in it to the last, because they shrink from a total renunciation of the service of God. Men have always, accordingly, been found addicted to ceremonies until they have been brought to the knowledge of that which constitutes true and acceptable religion. Praise and prayer are here to be considered as representing the whole of the worship of God, according to the figure synecdoche. The Psalmist specifies only one part of divine worship, when he enjoins us to acknowledge God as the Author of all our mercies, and to ascribe to him the praise which is justly due unto his name: and adds, that we should betake ourselves to his goodness, cast all our cares into his bosom, and seek by prayer that deliverance which he alone can give, and thanks for which must afterwards be rendered to him. Faith, self-denial, a holy life, and patient endurance of the cross, are all sacrifices which please God. But as prayer is the offspring of faith, and uniformly accompanied with patience and mortification of sin, while praise, where it is genuine, indicates holiness of heart, we need not wonder that these two points of worship should here be employed to represent the whole. Praise and prayer are set in opposition to ceremonies and mere external observances of religion, to teach us, that the worship of God is spiritual. Praise is first mentioned, and this might seem an inversion of natural order. But in reality it may be ranked first without any violation of propriety. An ascription to God of the honor due unto his name lies at the foundation of all prayer, and application to him as the fountain of goodness is the most elementary exercise of faith. Testimonies of his goodness await us ere yet we are born into the world, and we may therefore be said to owe the debt of gratitude before we are called to the necessity of supplication. Could we suppose men to come into the world in the full exercise of reason and judgment, their first act of spiritual sacrifice should be that of thanksgiving. There is no necessity, however, for exercising our ingenuity in defense of the order here adopted by the Psalmist, it being quite sufficient to hold that he here, in a general and popular manner, describes the spiritual worship of God as consisting in praise, prayer, and thanksgiving. In the injunction here given, to pay our vows, there is an allusion to what was in use under the ancient dispensation,
“What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.” Ps. 116:12, 13
What the words inculcate upon the Lord’s people is, in short, gratitude, which they were then in the habit of testifying by solemn sacrifices. But we shall now direct our attention more particularly to the important point of the doctrine which is set before us in this passage. And the first thing deserving our notice is, that the Jews, as well as ourselves, were enjoined to yield a spiritual worship to God. Our Lord, when he taught that this was the only acceptable species of worship, rested his proof upon the one argument, that “God is a spirit,” (Joh 4:24.) He was no less a spirit, however, under the period of the legal ceremonies than after they were abolished; and must, therefore, have demanded then the same mode of worship which he now enjoins. It is true that he subjected the Jews to the ceremonial yoke, but in this he had a respect to the age of the Church; as afterwards, in the abrogation of it, he had an eye to our advantage. In every essential respect the worship was the same. The distinction was one entirely of outward form, God accommodating himself to their weaker and unripe apprehensions by the rudiments of ceremony, while he has extended a simple form of worship to us who have attained a maturer age since the coming of Christ. In himself there is no alteration. The idea entertained by the Manicheans, that the change of dispensation necessarily inferred a change in God himself, was as absurd as it would be to arrive at a similar conclusion from the periodical alterations of the seasons. These outward rites are, therefore, in themselves of no importance, and acquire it only in so far as they are useful in confirming our faith, so that we may call upon the name of the Lord with a pure heart. The Psalmist, therefore, justly denounces the hypocrites who gloried in their ostentatious services, and declares that they observed them in vain. It may occur to some, that as sacrifices sustained a necessary place under the Law, they could not be warrantably neglected by the Jewish worshipper; but by attending to the scope of the Psalmist, we may easily discover that he does not propose to abrogate them so far as they were helps to piety, but to correct that erroneous view of them, which was fraught with the deepest injury to religion.
In the fifteenth verse we have first an injunction to prayer, then a promise of its being answered, and afterwards a call to thanksgiving. We are enjoined to pray in the day of trouble, but not with the understanding that we are to pray only then, for prayer is a duty incumbent upon us every day, and every moment of our lives. Be our situation ever so comfortable and exempt from disquietude, we must never cease to engage in the exercise of supplication, remembering that, if God should withdraw his favor for a moment, we would be undone. In affliction, however our faith is more severely tried, and there is a propriety in specifying it as the season of prayer; the prophet pointing us to God as the only resort and means of safety in the day of our urgent necessity. A promise is subjoined to animate us in the duty, disposed as we are to be overwhelmed by a sense of the majesty of God, or of our own unworthiness. Gratitude is next enjoined, in consideration of God’s answer to our prayers. Invocation of the name of God being represented in this passage as constituting a principal part of divine worship, all who make pretensions to piety will feel how necessary it is to preserve the pure and uncorrupted form of it. We are forcibly taught the detestable nature of the error upon this point entertained by the Papists, who transfer to angels and to men an honor which belongs exclusively to God. They may pretend to view these in no other light than as patrons, who pray for them to God. But it is evident that these patrons are impiously substituted by them in the room of Christ, whose mediation they reject. It is apparent, besides, from the form of their prayers, that they recognize no distinction between God and the very least of their saints. They ask the same things from Saint Claudius which they ask from the Almighty, and offer the prayer of our Lord to the image of Catherine. I am aware that the Papists justify their invocation of the dead, by denying that their prayers to them amount to divine worship. They talk so much about the kind of worship which they call latria, that is, the worship which they give to God alone, as to make it appear, that in the invocation of angels and saints they give none of it to them. 250 But it is impossible to read the words of the Psalmist, now under our consideration, without perceiving that all true religion is gone unless God alone is called upon. Were the Papists asked whether it were lawful to offer sacrifices to the dead, they would immediately reply in the negative. They grant to this day that sacrifice could not lawfully be offered to Peter or to Paul, for the common sense of mankind would dictate the profanity of such an act. And when we here see God preferring the invocation of his name to all sacrifices, is it not plain to demonstration, that those who call upon the dead are chargeable with the grossest impiety? From this it follows, that the Papists, let them abound as they may in their genuflections before God, rob him of the chief part of his glory when they direct their supplications to the saints. 251 The express mention which is made in these verses of affliction is fitted to comfort the weak and the fearful believer. When God has withdrawn the outward marks of his favor, a doubt is apt to steal into our minds whether he really cares for our salvation. So far is this from being well founded, that adversity is sent to us by God, just to stir us up to seek him and to call upon his name. Nor should we overlook the fact, that our prayers are only acceptable when we offer them in compliance with the commandment of God, and are animated to them by a consideration of the promise which he has extended. The argument which the Papists have drawn from the passage, in support of their multiplied vows, is idle and unwarrantable. The Psalmist, as we have already hinted, when he enjoins the payment of their vows, refers only to solemn thanksgiving, whereas they trust in their vows as meriting salvation. They contract vows, beside, which have no divine warrant, but, on the contrary, are explicitly condemned by the word of God.
16. But unto the wicked God hath said, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant into thy lips? 17. Also thou hatest correction, and castest my words behind thee. 18. If thou seest a thief, thou wilt run with him, and thou hast been partaker with adulterers. 19. Thou puttest forth thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit. 20. Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother’s sons.
16 But unto the wicked, etc. He now proceeds to direct his censures more openly against those whose whole religion lies in an observance of ceremonies, with which they attempt to blind the eyes of God. An exposure is made of the vanity of seeking to shelter impurity of heart and life under a veil of outward services, a lesson which ought to have been received by all with true consent, but which was peculiarly ungrateful to Jewish ears. It has been universally confessed, that the worship of God is pure and acceptable only when it proceeds from a sincere heart. The acknowledgement has been extorted from the poets of the heathen, and it is known that the profligate were wont to be excluded from their temples and from participation in their sacrifices. And yet such is the influence of hypocrisy in choking and obliterating even a sentiment so universally felt as this, that men of the most abandoned character will obtrude themselves into the presence of God, in the confidence of deceiving him with their vain inventions. This may explain the frequency of the warnings which we find in the prophets upon this subject, declaring to the ungodly again and again, that they only aggravate their guilt by assuming the semblance of piety. Loudly as the Spirit of God has asserted, that a form of godliness, unaccompanied by the grace of faith and repentance, is but a sacrilegious abuse of the name of God; it is yet impossible to drive the Papists out of the devilish delusion, that their idlest services are sanctified by what they call their final intention. They grant that none but such as are in a state of grace can possess the meritum de condigno; 252 but they maintain that the mere outward acts of devotion, without any accompanying sentiments of the heart, may prepare a person at least for the reception of grace. And thus, if a monk rise from the bed of his adultery to chant a few psalms without one spark of godliness in his breast, or if a whore-monger, a thief, or any foresworn villain, seeks to make reparation for his crimes by mass or pilgrimage, they would be loath to consider this lost labor. By God, on the other hand, such a disjunction of the form from the inward sentiment of devotion is branded as sacrilege. In the passage before us, the Psalmist sets aside and refutes a very common objection which might be urged. Must not, it might be said, those sacrifices be in some respect acceptable to God which are offered up in his honor? He shows that, on the contrary, they entail guilt upon the parties who present them, inasmuch as they lie to God, and profane his holy name. He checks their presumption with the words, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes? that is, to pretend that you are one of my people, and that you have a part in my covenant. Now, if God in this manner rejects the whole of that profession of godliness, which is unaccompanied by purity of heart, how shall we expect him to treat the observance of mere ceremonies, which hold quite an inferior place to the declaration of the statutes of God?
17. Also thou hatest correction Here hypocrites are challenged with treacherous duplicity in denying, by their life and their works, that godliness which they have professed with the lip. Their contempt of God he proves from their want of reverential deference to his Word; subjection to the Word of God, and cordial submission to his precepts and instructions, being the surest test of religious principle. One way in which hypocrisy usually displays itself is, by the ingenious excuses it invents for evading the duty of obedience. The Psalmist points to this as the mainspring of their ungodliness, that they had cast the Word of God behind their back, while he insinuates that the principle from which all true worship flows is the obedience of faith. He adverts also to the cause of their perversity, which lies in the unwillingness of their corrupt heart to suffer the yoke of God. They have no hesitation in granting that whatever proceeds from the mouth of God is both true and right; this honor they are willing to concede to his Word; but in so far as it proposes to regulate their conduct, and restrain their sinful affections, they dislike and detest it. Our corruption, indisposing us to receive correction, exasperates us against the Word of God; nor is it possible that we can ever listen to it with true docility and meekness of mind, till we have been brought to give ourselves up to be ruled and disciplined by its precepts. The Psalmist next proceeds to specify some of those works of ungodliness, informing us that hypocrites, who were addicted to theft and adultery, mixed up and polluted the holy name of God with their wickedness. By adverting only to some species of vices, he would intimate, in general, that those who have despised correction, and hardened themselves against instruction, are prepared to launch into every excess which corrupt desire or evil example may suggests. He makes mention, first, of thefts; then of adulteries; and, thirdly, of calumnies or false reproaches. Most interpreters render תרף, tirets, to run, although others derive it from רצה, ratsah, rendering it to consent. Either translation agrees sufficiently with the scope of the Psalmist, and the preference may be left to the reader’s own choice. The charge here brought against hypocrites, that they put forth their mouth to evil, may include not merely slander, but all the different kinds of speaking which injure their neighbors, for it immediately follows, my tongue frameth deceit It is well known in what a variety of ways the lying and deceitful tongue may inflict injury and pain. When it is added, Thou sittest, etc., the allusion may be to one who sits for the passing of a formal judgment; as if it had been said, Thou defamest thy brethren under pretext of issuing a just sentence. 253 Or there may be a reference to petty calumny; such as men maliciously indulge in, and in which they pass their time as they sit at ease in their houses. 254 It seems more probable, however, that he refers to the higher crime of accusing the innocent and righteous in open court, and bringing false charges against them. Brethren, and the children of their mother, 255 are mentioned, the more emphatically to express the cruelty of their calumnies, when they are represented as violating the ties of nature, and not even sparing the nearest relations.
21. These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I would be like thyself; 256 I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes. 22. Now consider this, ye that forget God: lest I seize upon you, and there be none to deliver. 23. Whoso offereth praise will glorify me: and to him that ordereth his way aright will I show the salvation of God.
21 These things hast thou done Hypocrites, until they feel the hand of God against them, are ever ready to surrender themselves to a state of security, and nothing is more difficult than to awaken their apprehensions. By this alarming language the Psalmist aims at convincing them of the certainty of destruction should they longer presume upon the forbearance of God, and thus provoke his anger the more, by imagining that he can favor the practice of sin. The greatest dishonor which any can cast upon his name is that of impeaching his justice. This hypocrites may not venture to do in an open manner, but in their secret and corrupt imagination they figure God to be different from what he is, that they may take occasion from his conceived forbearance to indulge a false peace of mind, and escape the disquietude which they could not fail to feel were they seriously persuaded that God was the avenger of sin. We have a sufficient proof in the supine security which hypocrites display, that they must have formed such false conceptions of God. They not only exclude from their thoughts his judicial character, but think of him as the patron and approver of their sins. The Psalmist reprehends them for abusing the goodness and clemency of God, in the way of cherishing a vain hope that they may transgress with impunity. He warns them, that ere long they will be dragged into the light, and that those sins which they would have hidden from the eyes of God would be set in all their enormity before their view. He will set the whole list of their sins in distinct order, for so I understand the expression, to set in order, before their view, and force them upon their observation.
22 Now consider this, ye that forget God Here we have more of that severe expostulation which is absolutely necessary in dealing with hardened hypocrites, who otherwise will only deride all instruction. While, however, the Psalmist threatens and intends to alarm them, he would, at the same time, hold out to them the hope of pardon, upon their hastening to avail themselves of it. But to prevent them from giving way to delay, he warns them of the severity, as well as the suddenness, of the divine judgments. He also charges them with base ingratitude, in having forgotten God. And here what a remarkable proof have we of the grace of God in extending the hope of mercy to those corrupt men, who had so impiously profaned his worship, who had so audaciously and sacrilegiously mocked at his forbearance, and who had abandoned themselves to such scandalous crimes! In calling them to repentance, without all doubt he extends to them the hope of God being reconciled to them, that they may venture to appear in the presence of his majesty. And can we conceive of greater clemency than this, thus to invite to himself, and into the bosom of the Church, such perfidious apostates and violators of his covenant, who had departed from the doctrine of godliness in which they had been brought up? Great as it is, we would do well to reflect that it is no greater than what we have ourselves experienced. We, too, had apostatized from the Lord, and in his singular mercy has he brought us again into his fold. It should not escape our notice, that the Psalmist urges them to hasten their return, as the door of mercy will not always stand open for their admission — a needful lesson to us all! lest we allow the day of our merciful visitation to pass by, and be left, like Esau, to indulge in unavailing lamentations, (Ge 27:34.) So much is implied when it is said, God shall seize upon you, and there shall be none to deliver 257
23 Whoso offereth praise will glorify me This is the third time that the Psalmist has inculcated the truth, that the most acceptable sacrifice in God’s sight is praise, by which we express to him the gratitude of our hearts for his blessings. The repetition is not a needless one, and that on two accounts. In the first place, there is nothing with which we are more frequently chargeable than forgetfulness of the benefits of the Lord. Scarcely one out of a thousand attracts our notice; and if it does, it is only slightly, and, as it were, in passing. And, secondly, we do not assign that importance to the duty of praise which it deserves. We are apt to neglect it as something trivial, and altogether commonplace; whereas it constitutes the chief exercise of godliness, in which God would have us to be engaged during the whole of our life. In the words before us, the sacrifice of praise is asserted to form the true and proper worship of God. The words, will glorify me, imply that God is then truly and properly worshipped, and the glory which he requires yielded to him, when his goodness is celebrated with a sincere and grateful heart; but that all the other sacrifices to which hypocrites attach such importance are worthless in his estimation, and no part whatsoever of his worship. Under the word praise, however, is comprehended, as I have already noticed, both faith and prayer. There must be an experience of the goodness of the Lord before our mouths can be opened to praise him for it, and this goodness can only be experienced by faith. Hence it follows, that the whole of spiritual worship is comprehended under what is either presupposed in the exercise of praise, or flows from it. Accordingly, in the words which immediately follow, the Psalmist calls upon those who desired that their services should be approved of God, to order their way aright By the expression here used of ordering one’s way, some understand repentance or confession of sin to be meant; others, the taking out of the way such things as may prove grounds of offense, or obstacles in the way of others. It seems more probable that the Psalmist enjoins them to walk in the right way as opposed to that in which hypocrites are found, and intimates that God is only to be approached by those who seek him with a sincere heart and in an upright manner. By the salvation of God, I do not, with some, understand a great or signal salvation. God speaks of himself in the third person, the more clearly to satisfy them of the fact, that he would eventually prove to all his genuine worshippers how truly he sustained the character of their Savior.
The preposition ל, lamed, prefixed to the name of Asaph, which Calvin renders of, may also be rendered for, as we have before observed, and it is, therefore, somewhat doubtful whether he was the author of the psalms in whose inscriptions his name appears, or whether they were merely delivered to him by David to be sung m the temple worship. We, however, know from 2Ch 29:30, that a seer of the name of Asaph, the son of Berechia, and who, along with his sons, were appointed singers in the sacred services of the temple, (1 Chr. 6:31, 39, 1 Chr. 15:19, 1 Chr. 25:1, 2, Neh. 12:46,) was the inspired writer of several psalms. It is therefore probable that he was the author of the psalms which bear his name. These are twelve, the 50th, and from the 73d to the 83d, both inclusive. It has been thought by some that these psalms differ very remarkably, both in style and subject, from those of David, the composition being more stiff and obscure than the polished, flowing, and graceful odes of the sweet singer of Israel, and the subject-matter being of a melancholy character, and full of reprehension.
That is, the inhabitants of the earth.
(“Dira-il.”) — Fr.
The original words here rendered “The God of gods, even Jehovah,” are אל אלהים יהוה, E1 Elohim Yehovah Each of these words is a name of the Divine Being. The first has reference to the power of the Deity; so that it might be translated, “The Mighty One.” If we read אל אלהים, El Elohim, together, and translate “The God of gods,” this is a Hebrewism for “Most mighty God;” the word אלהים, Elohim, being placed after the name of any thing to express its excellency, greatness, or might. See p. 7, note 1, of this volume. Comp. De 10:17; Jos 22:22; and Da 11:36. Horsley reads, “The omnipotent God Jehovah hath spoken.” The reading of the Chaldee is, “The mighty One, the God Jehovah.” The prophet has here joined together these three names of God, to give to the Israelites a more impressive idea of the greatness of Him who, now seated on his throne, and surrounded with awful majesty, was about to plead his controversy with them.
“The Targum, Kimchi, and R. Obediah Gaon, interpret this psalm of the day of judgment, and Jarchi takes it to be a prophecy of the redemption by their future Messiah.” — Dr Gill. Dr Adam Clarke explains it in the first of these senses; observing, that “to any minor consideration or fact it seems impossible with any propriety to restrain it.” It appears, however, as Calvin holds, to be rather the aim and intention of the poem to teach the utter uselessness of all outward ceremonies in the absence of inward piety; and it is constructed on the plan of a dramatic performance, the sole actor being Jehovah seated on his throne in Zion, and the audience being the whole world, who are summoned to be witnesses of the judgment which he is to execute upon his people. This is the view taken by Bishop Lowth in his Lectures on Sacred Poetry, volume 2, p. 235. Walford gives the same interpretation. “To interpret this passage,” says he, “of the promulgation of the Gospel, as is done by Bishop Horne and other expositors of this book, is for the sake of a favorite theory to confound things that are distinct, and to throw obscurity over the whole, by which its specific design is darkened, and the poem deprived of its consistency and unity. The great purpose of the psalm is to deliver the judgment of God respecting the Jewish people; and heaven and earth are summoned, as in Isa 1:2, to behold the righteousness of Jehovah, and bear their testimony to it.”
This negative form of expression is employed to give greater emphasis.
In Luther’s German translation of the Bible this verse is rendered,
“Gather me mine holy ones,
That regard the covenant more than offering.”
The manner in which covenants were anciently ratified by sacrifices was this: The victim was cut into two parts, and each half was placed upon an altar. The contracting parties then passed between the pieces, which was a kind of imprecation upon the party who should violate the covenant, being as much as to say, May he or they be cut asunder like that dissected victim. In this manner, the covenant which God made with Abraham and his family was ratified, Gen. 15:9, 17, 18. This awful ceremony was also observed by God’s ancient people at the renovation of the covenant, as appears from Jer 34:18. See also a covenant between God and his people with sacrifices in Ex 24:4-8. This explains the phrase here used, which is literally, “Those who have cut a covenant with me by sacrifice,” the verb being from כרת, carath, he cut The same mode of ratifying covenants prevailed among some of the heathen nations, as appears from the allusions made to it by Homer and Virgil, Iliad, lib. 19, 50, 260; Æneid, lib. 12, 50, 292.
In explanation of this, Martin observes, “Le feu descendu du ciel,” etc.; i.e., “The fire which descended from heaven upon the sacrifices was considered mystically as the mouth of God which devoured the flesh of the victims; and it was on that account that God had expressly forbidden to consume them by fire brought elsewhere, because this strange fire, not being that which descended from heaven, could not be regarded mystically as the mouth of God.”
“I do not well see how it (verse 8th) can be translated otherwise than Leusden has done it.” — Dr Lowth. Leusden translates it thus: — “Non super sacrificia tua arguam te, et holocausta tua coram me sunt semper.” — Merrick’s Annotations. Dr Adam Clarke explains the verse as follows: — “I do not mean to find fault with you for not offering sacrifices; you have offered them; they have been continually before me; but you have not offered them in the proper way.”
Dr Adam Clarke reads, “Sacrifice unto God the thank-offering;” and observes, that “תודה, todah, the thank-offering, was the same as the sin-offering, viz., ‘a bullock or a ram without blemish;’ only there was in addition, ‘unleavened cakes mingled with oil, and unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and cakes of fine flour mingled with oil and fried,’” (Le 7:12.)
The same author translates נדריך, nedareyca, “thy vow-offerings The nedar, or vow-offering, was a male without blemish taken from among the beeves, the sheep, or the goats. Comp. Le 22:19, with verse 22.”
The Papists have different words by which they express different degrees of worship. The term λατρεια, or latria, they say, denotes the divine worship which exclusively belongs to God, and which they yield to him alone; while δουλεια, or dulia, signifies that inferior sort of worship which is due to angels and departed saints, and which alone they yield to them. They have also a third degree, which they call ὑπερδουλεια, or hyperdulia, that superior kind of inferior worship which they yield to the Virgin Mary. These distinctions are had recourse to, merely to evade the charge of idolatry. But if the Papists yield to angels and glorified saints the honor due only to God, it is of little consequence by what name it is called. Besides, the words λατρεαι and δουλεαι are used indifferently by classic Greek authors, by the Greek fathers, by the Septuagint, and in the New Testament, to express divine worship. In the New Testament, δουλεια frequently denotes divine worship. Thus we read, in 1Th 1:9, “Ye turned to God from idols, δουλευειν τω Θεω ζῶντι, to serve the living God;” and in Ga 4:8, it is said of the Galatians in their heathen state, that “ἐδουλευσαν, they did service unto them which, by nature, are no gods.” — See Calvin’s Institutes, Book I. chap.12, sections 2 and 3; Turretine’s Works, volume 4, De Necessaria Secessione Nostra ab Ecclesia Romana, pp. 50-53; and M’Gavin’s Protestant, volume1, No. 42, p. 334.
The subject of the invocation of departed saints is discussed at length in Calvin’s Institutes, Book III. chap. 20, sections 21-27.
“The Schoolmen in that Church, ‘the Church of Rome,’ spoke of meritum de congruo, and meritum de condigno. By meritum de congruo, ‘to which Calvin refers in the concluding part of the sentence,’ they meant the value of good works and good dispositions previous to justification, which it was fit or congruous for God to reward by infusing his grace. By meritum de condigno they meant the value of good works performed after justification, in consequence of the grace then infused.” — Dr Hill’s Lectures in Divinity, volume 2, p. 348; see also Turretine’s Theology, volume 2, p. 778.
תשכ. Gejerus and others suppose that this word alludes to the mode of sitting in judgment. See Ps 119:23.” — Dimock’s Notes on the Book of Psalms
When you are sitting still, and have nothing else to do, you are ever injuring your neighbor with your slanderous speech. Your table-talk is abuse of your nearest friends.” — Horsley. The meaning, according to others, is, Thou sittest in the most public places of resort, which were usually the gates of the city, and spendest thy time in calumniating thy brother. See Ps. 69:12, Ps. 119:23.
“Thine own mother’s son. To understand the force of this expression, it is necessary to bear in mind that polygamy was allowed amongst the Israelites. Those who were born to the same father were all brethren, but a yet more intimate relationship subsisted between those who had the same mother as well as the same father.” — French and Skinner. Compare Ge 20:12. It was a high aggravation of the wickedness and malignity of the persons here spoken or; that they indulged in abusing with their tongues those to whom they were most nearly related, their brother, yea, the son of their mother.
Horsley translates these two clauses as follows: —
“These things thou hast done, and I was still;
Thou hast thought that I AM is such an one as thyself.
He thinks that the words חיות אהיה, heyoth ehyeh, which Calvin renders, “I would be,” have been misunderstood by all interpreters, and maintains that they should be rendered, “I AM is.” “All interpreters,” says he, “seem to have forgotten that אהיה, ehyeh, is the name which God takes to himself in the third chapter of Exodus; and he observes, that it is with particular propriety, that God, in expostulating with his people for their breach of covenant, calls himself by the name by which he was pleased to describe himself to that same people, when he first called them by his servant Moses.” The LXX. render היות, heyoth, as a noun substantive, and אהיה, ehyeh, as the first person future of the substantive verb. “‘Ψπελαθες ἀνομιαν, ὁτι ἐσομαι σοι ὁμοιος:” “Thou thoughtest wickedly that I should be like thee.”
The language here is metaphorical. The Almighty, provoked by the wickedness of these hypocrites, compares himself to a lion, who, with irresistible fury, seizes on his prey, and tears it in pieces, none being able to rescue it from his jaws. We meet with a similar form of expression in Ho 5:14: “For I will be as a lion unto Ephraim, and as a young lion to the house of Judah: I, even I, will tear and go away; I will take away, and none shall rescue him.” We must not, however, suppose that the rage and fury of this relentless destroyer can have place in the bosom of the Deity. Such phraseology is adopted in accommodation to the feebleness of our conceptions, and our contracted modes of thinking, to impress the hearts and consciences of sinners with a conviction of the tremendous character of the judgments of God, and the fearful condition of those who fall under his penal wrath.