Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 9: Psalms, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
There may have been one deliverance in particular, which the Psalmist celebrates here in the name of the Church, but he includes the many and various mercies which God had all along conferred upon his chosen people. While he takes notice of the divine interposition in their behalf, in a crisis of great mercy and distress, he suggests it as matter of comfort under trial, that their subjection to the tyranny of their enemies had been designed to prove them as silver in the furnace. At the close, he would appear to speak of himself individually, and adduces it as a proof of his integrity, that God had heard him, for God does not grant acceptance to the wicked.
To the chief musician, the Song of a Psalm. 465
1. Shout unto God, all the earth. 2. Sing the honor of his name: make glorious his praise. 466 3. Say unto God, How terrible art thou in thy works! in the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies lie [or feign submission] unto thee. 4. All the earth shall worship thee, and they shall sing unto thee; they shall sing thy name. Selah.
1. Shout unto God, all the earth The psalm begins with this general declaration, which is afterwards reduced to particulars. 467 He addresses himself to the whole world, and from this it would seem evident, that he predicts the extent to which the kingdom of God should reach at the coming of Christ. In the second verse the call is repeated with increasing vehemency, to stir up to the praises of God, such as might otherwise be remiss in the service. To sing the honor of his name, is an expression sufficiently obvious; meaning, that we should extol his sacred name in a manner suitable to its dignity, so that it may obtain its due and deserved adoration. But the clause which follows is rather ambiguous. Some think that it conveys a repetition of the same idea contained in other words, and read, set forth the glory of his praise. 468 I prefer taking the Hebrew word signifying praise to be in the accusative case; rendering the words literally, make a glory his praise. And by this I understand him to mean, not as some do, that we should glory exclusively in his praises, 469 but simply, that we highly exalt his praises, that they may be glorious. The Psalmist is not satisfied with our declaring them moderately, and insists that we should celebrate his goodness in some measure proportionably to its excellence.
3. Say unto God, How terrible art thou in thy works! Here he proceeds to state the grounds why he would have us to praise God. Many content themselves with coldly descanting to others of his praises, but with the view of awakening and more deeply impressing our hearts, he directs us to address ourselves immediately to God. It is when we hold converse with him apart, and with no human eye to witness us, that we feel the vanity of hypocrisy, and will be likely to utter only what we have well and seriously meditated in our hearts. Nothing tends more to beget a reverential awe of God upon our spirits than sisting ourselves in his presence. What the Psalmist adds is fitted and designed to produce the same feeling, that through the greatness of God’s power, his enemies feign submission to him Are they who would perversely and obstinately revolt from his service, forced to humble themselves before him, whether they will it or not, how much more, then, ought his own children to serve him, who are invited into his presence, by the accents of tenderness, instead of being reduced to subjection by terror? There is an implied contrast drawn between the voluntary homage which they yield, as attracted by the sweet influences of grace, and that slavish obedience which is wrung reluctantly from the unbeliever. The Hebrew word here used for to lie, signifies to yield such a submission as is constrained, and not free or cordial, as Ps 18:45. Neither the words nor the scope favor the other senses which have been suggested, as, that his enemies would acknowledge themselves to have been deceived in their hopes, or that they would deny having ever intended hostilities against him. There are many ways in which hypocrites may lie, but nothing more is meant by the Psalmist here, than that the power of God is such as to force them into a reluctant subjection.
4. All the earth shall worship thee. The Psalmist had good reason for insisting upon this one point again and again. Though all tongues were tuned to the praise of God, they never could adequately extol it; and yet such are the negligence and the perversity of men, that they will scarcely lift one feeble note in celebration of a theme which should command their united strength and might. We have another prediction here, of a time being to come when God would be worshipped, not only by the Jews, a small section of the human family, but by all the nations which would be eventually brought under his government. And we are not to consider that he refers to such a worship as would be constrained, and only not withheld, because resistance might be dangerous, but to the sincere homage of the heart — they shall sing unto thee! they shall sing unto thy name Praise is the best of all sacrifices, (as we are told, Ps. 50:14, 23) and the true evidence of godliness. 470
5. Come and see the works of God; he is terrible in his dealing towards the children of men. 6. He turned the sea into dry land; they went through the flood on foot; there did we rejoice in him. 7. He ruleth by his power over the world; his eyes behold the nations; rebels 471 shall not exalt themselves. 8. Bless our God; 472 O ye people! and resound the voice of his praise. 9. Who hath brought our souls unto life, and hath not suffered our feet to fall.
5. Come and see the works of God An indirect censure is here passed upon that almost universal thoughtlessness which leads men to neglect the praises of God. Why is it that they so blindly overlook the operations of his hand, but just because they never direct their attention seriously to them? We need to be aroused upon this subject. The words before us may receive some explanation by referring to a parallel passage, Ps 46:8. But the great scope of them is this, that the Psalmist would withdraw men from the vain or positively sinful and pernicious pursuits in which they are engaged, and direct their thoughts to the works of God. To this he exhorts them, chiding their backwardness and negligence. The expression, Come and see, intimates that what they blindly overlooked was open to observation; for were it otherwise with the works of God, this language would be inappropriate. He next points out what those works of God are to which he would have our attention directed; in general he would have us look to the method in which God governs the human family. This experimental or practical kind of knowledge, if I might so call it, is that which makes the deepest impression. 473 We find, accordingly, that Paul, (Ac 17:27) after speaking of the power of God in general, brings his subject to bear upon this one particular point, and calls upon us to descend into ourselves if we would discover the proofs of a present God. The last clause of the fifth verse I would not interpret with some as meaning that God was terrible above the children of men — superior to them in majesty — but rather that he is terrible towards them, evincing an extraordinary providence in their defense and preservation, as we have seen noticed, Ps 40:5. Men need look no further, therefore, than themselves, in order to discover the best grounds for reverencing and fearing God. The Psalmist passes next from the more general point of his providence towards mankind at large, to his special care over his own Church, adverting to what he had done for the redemption of his chosen people. What he states here must be considered as only one illustration of many which he might have touched upon, and as intended to remind God’s people of the infinite variety of benefits with which their first and great deliverance had been followed up and confirmed. This appears obvious from what he adds, there we rejoiced in him It is impossible that the joy of that deliverance could have extended to him or any of the descendants of the ancient Israelites, unless it had partaken the nature of a pledge and illustration of the love of God to the Church generally. Upon that event he showed himself to be the everlasting Savior of his people; so that it proved a common source of joy to all the righteous.
7. He ruleth by his power over the world The Hebrew word עולם, olam, which I have translated the world, signifies occasionally an age, or eternity; 474 but the first sense seems to agree best with the context, and the meaning of the words is, that God is endued with the power necessary for wielding the government of the world. What follows agrees with this, that his eyes behold the nations Under the law, Judea was the proper seat of his kingdom; but his providence always extended to the world at large; and the special favor shown to the posterity of Abraham, in consideration of the covenant, did not prevent him from extending an eye of providential consideration to the surrounding nations. As an evidence of his care reaching to the different countries round, he takes notice of the judgments which God executed upon the wicked and the ungodly. He proves that there was no part of the human family which God overlooked, by referring to the fact of the punishment of evil-doers. There may be much in the Divine administration of the world calculated to perplex our conclusions; but there are always some tokens to be seen of his judgments, and these sufficiently clear to strike the eye of an acute and attentive observer.
8 Bless our God, O ye people! Although calling upon all, without exception, to praise God, he refers particularly to some Divine interposition in behalf of the Church. He would seem to hint that the Gentiles were destined, at a future period, to share the favor now exclusively enjoyed by God’s chosen people. In the meantime, he reminds them of the signal and memorable nature of the deliverance granted, by calling upon them to spread abroad the fame of it. Though he speaks of the Jewish people as having been brought unto life, (an expression intended to denote deliverance of a more than ordinary kind,) this means that they had been preserved from approaching danger rather than recovered from a calamity which had actually overtaken them, It is said that their feet had not been suffered to fall, which implies, that, through seasonable help which they had received, they had not fallen, but stood firm. The Psalmist, however, does not take occasion, from the evil having been anticipated and averted, to undervalue it. As they had been preserved safe by an interposition of Divine goodness, he speaks of this as tantamount to having been brought or restored to life.
10. For thou, O God! hast proved us, thou hast tried us as silver is tried. 11. Thou broughtest us into the net, thou laidest restraint upon our loins. 12. Thou hast made man to ride over our heads, 475 we have come into fire and water, and thou hast brought us into a fruitful place. 476
10 For thou, O God! hast proved us We may read, Though thou, O God! etc., and then the passage comes in as a qualification of what went before, and is brought forward by the Psalmist to enhance the goodness of God, who had delivered them from such severe calamities. But there is another object which I consider him to have in view, and this is the alleviation of the grief of God’s people, by setting before them the comfort suggested by the words which follow. When visited with affliction, it is of great importance that we should consider it as coming from God, and as expressly intended for our good. It is in reference to this that the Psalmist speaks of their having been proved and tried. At the same time, while he adverts to God’s trying his children with the view of purging away their sin, as dross is expelled from the silver by fire, he would intimate, also, that trial had been made of their patience. The figure implies that their probation had been severe; for silver is cast repeatedly into the furnace. They express themselves thankful to God, that, while proved with affliction, they had not been destroyed by it; but that their affliction was both varied and very severe, appears not only from the metaphor, but from the whole context, where they speak of having been cast into the net, being reduced to straits, men riding over their heads, and of being brought through shipwreck and conflagration. 477 The expression, laying a restraint [or chain] upon their loins, is introduced as being stronger than the one which goes before. It was not a net of thread which had been thrown over them, but rather they had been bound down with hard and insolvable fetters. The expression which follows refers to men who had shamefully tyrannised over them, and ridden them down as cattle. By fire and water are evidently meant complicated afflictions; and it is intimated that God had exercised his people with every form of calamity. They are the two elements which contribute more than any other to sustain human life, but are equally powerful for the destruction of it. It is noticeable, that the Psalmist speaks of all the cruelties which they had most unjustly suffered from the hands of their enemies, as an infliction of Divine punishment; and would guard the Lord’s people against imagining that God was ignorant of what they had endured, or distracted by other things from giving attention to it. In their condition, as here described, we have that of the Church generally represented to us; and this, that when subjected to vicissitudes, and cast out of the fire into the water, by a succession of trials, there may at last be felt to be nothing new or strange in the event to strike us with alarm. The Hebrew word רויה, revayah, which I have rendered fruitful place, means literally a well-watered land. Here it is taken metaphorically for a condition of prosperity, the people of God being represented as brought into a pleasant and fertile place, where there is abundance of pasturage. The truth conveyed is, that God, although he visit his children with temporary chastisements of a severe description, will ultimately crown them with joy and prosperity. It is a mistake to suppose that the allusion is entirely to their being settled in the land of Canaan, 478 for the psalm has not merely reference to the troubles which they underwent in the wilderness, but to the whole series of distresses to which they were subjected at the different periods of their history.
13. I will come into thy house with burnt-offerings; I will pay thee my vows, 14. Which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken, when I was in trouble. 15. I will offer unto thee burnt-sacrifices of fatlings, with the incense of rams; 479 I will bring bullocks, with goats. Selah. 16. Come, hear, I will tell to all them that fear God, what he hath done for my soul.
13 I will come into thy house with burnt offerings Hitherto the Psalmist has spoken in the name of the people at large. Now he emphatically gives expression to his own private feelings, and calls upon them, by his example, to engage individually in the exercises of religion, it being impossible that there should be any hearty common consent unless each entered seriously upon the service of thanksgiving for himself and apart. We are taught that when God at any time succours us in our adversity, we do an injustice to his name if we forget to celebrate our deliverances with solemn acknowledgements. More is spoken of in this passage than thanksgiving. He speaks of vows having been contracted by him in his affliction, and these evidenced the constancy of his faith. The exhortation of the Apostle James is worthy of our special notice —
“Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry?
let him sing psalms.” (Jas 5:13)
How many are there who lavish their hypocritical praises upon God in the career of their good fortune, while they are no sooner reduced to straits than the fervor of their love is damped, or gives place to the violence of fretfulness and impatience. The best evidence of true piety is when we sigh to God under the pressure of our afflictions, and show, by our prayers, a holy perseverance in faith and patience; while afterwards we come forward with the expression of our gratitude. The words, which my lips have uttered, are not an unmeaning addition, but imply that he had never allowed himself to be so far overcome by grief as not to throw his desires into the express form of petition, declaring that he cast himself for safety into the hands of God. On the subject of vows, I may just shortly repeat the remarks which have been given at greater length elsewhere. First, the holy fathers never vowed anything to God but what they knew to be sanctioned by his approval. Secondly, their sole end in vowing was to evidence their gratitude. The Papists, therefore, can find no warrant, from their example, for the rash and impious vows which they practice. They obtrude upon God whatever chances to come first into their lips; the end which they propose to themselves is the farthest removed from the right one; and with devilish presumption they engage themselves to things which are not allowed them.
15 I will offer unto thee burnt-sacrifices of fatlings. We must suppose the speaker to be either David or one of the more considerable men of the nation, for none in humbler circumstances could have offered rich sacrifices of this kind. It is probable that David was the author of the psalm, and here he signifies his intention to show a kingly liberality in his offerings. The reason why God ordered victims to be offered as an expression of thanksgiving was, as is well known, to teach the people that their praises were polluted by sin, and needed to be sanctified from without. However we might propose to ourselves to praise the name of God, we could only profane it with our impure lips, had not Christ once offered himself up a sacrifice, to sanctify both us and our services. (Heb 10:7) It is through him, as we learn from the apostle, that our praises are accepted. The Psalmist, by way of commendation of his burnt-offering, speaks of its incense or sweet savor; for although in themselves vile and loathsome, yet the rams and other victims, so far as they were figures of Christ, sent up a sweet savor unto God. 480 Now that the shadows of the Law have been abolished, attentionis called to the true spiritual service. What this consists in, is more clearly brought under our notice in the verse which follows, where the Psalmist tells us, that he would spread abroad the fame of the benefits which he had received from God. Such was the end designed, even in the outward ceremonies under the Law, apart from which they could only be considered as an empty show. It was this — the fact, that they set forth the praises of the divine goodness — which formed the very season of the sacrifices, preserving them from insipidity. In calling, as he does, upon all the fearers of the Lord, the Psalmist teaches us, that if we duly feel the goodness of God, we will be inflamed with a desire to publish it abroad, that others may have their faith and hope confirmed, by what they hear of it, as well as join with us in a united song of praise. He addresses himself to none but such as feared the Lord, for they only could appreciate what he had to say, and it would have been lost labor to communicate it to the hypocritical and ungodly.
17. I cried unto him with my mouth, and have extolled him under [or with] my tongue. 481 18. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me. 19. But truly God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer. 20. Blessed be God! who hath not turned away my prayer, and his mercy from me.
17. I cried unto him with my mouth He proves that he owed his safety to Divine interposition, from the circumstance of his having prayed, and in consequence, having sensibly experienced his kindness. Answers to prayer serve in no small degree to illustrate the goodness of God; and confirm our faith in it. In saying that he cried to God with his mouth and tongue, these are terms denoting, as we have seen in a previous part of the psalm, the vehemency and earnestness with which he prayed. Had he not prayed from the heart, he would have been rejected, but he makes mention of the tongue also, in token of the ardor of his supplications. Some absurdly imagine, that because the expression under the tongue is used, the meaning is with the heart Words are said to come from under the tongue, because they are formed by the flexion of the tongue, as in that passage,
“The poison of asps is under their lips,” (Ps 140:3)
The term extol intimates, that we cannot honor God more in our worship, than by looking upwards to him for deliverance. The Papists rob him of a chief part of his glory, when they direct their prayers to the dead or to images, and make such little account of calling upon the name of the Lord.
The Psalmist next lays down the rule, which must be attended to, if we would pray properly and acceptably; guarding against that presumptuous exercise which overlooks the necessity of faith and penitence. We see with what audacity hypocrites and ungodly men associate themselves with the Lord’s people, in compliance with the general calls of the word to engage in prayer. To check this solemn mockery, the Psalmist mentions integrity of heart as indispensable. I am aware that the words may be considered as an assertion of his own personal uprightness of conduct, as we find him frequently vindicating this, by an appeal to the visible and practical proofs which God had shown of his favor to him; but his main object is evidently to enforce by the example of his own exercise the common propriety of drawing near to God with a pure heart. We have a parallel scripture in Joh 9:31, “We know that God heareth not sinners.” In one sense, he hears none but sinners; for we must all conform to the great rule of applying to him for the remission of our sins. But while believers make an unreserved confession of guilt before God, by this very thing they cease to be sinners, for God pardons them in answer to their supplications. We are not to forget the words of Paul,
“Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity,” — (2Ti 2:19)
Besides, to regard iniquity in the heart does not mean to be conscious of sin — for all the Lord’s people must see their sins and be grieved for them, and this is rather praiseworthy than condemnable; — but to be bent upon the practice of iniquity. He particularly refers to the heart, intimating that not only were his hands clean, in the sense of his being innocent before men, but that he could appeal to God in proof of his inward integrity. When the heart does not correspond to the outward conduct, and harbours any secret evil intent, the fair exterior appearance may deceive men; but it is an abomination in the sight of God, The Psalmist affirms with emphasis, that his prayers had been answered, and we ought to draw the inference that we shall never be disappointed, if we seek God in sincerity.
20 Blessed be God! who hath not turned away my prayer He concludes the psalm, as he began it, with thanksgiving, and gives the reason of his not having met with a repulse; or, to take the figurative expression which he employs, of God’s not having turned away his prayer. This was, that he had not withdrawn his mercy. For it is entirely of his free grace that he is propitious, and that our prayers are not wholly ineffectual.
“This psalm is anonymous; nor can we, with certainty, determine to what time it relates. Venema refers it to the reign of Hezekiah, and supposes it to celebrate the deliverance which was effected by the destruction of Sennacherib’s army. Rudinger is of opinion, that it celebrates the opening of the sacred temple, after the return from Babylon. It must be owned, that we have nothing but conjecture to offer on this subject; yet it appears to me that the latter of these opinions is the most probable.” — Walford.
“Ou, mettez gloire a sa louan.” — Fr. marg. “Or, put glory to his praise.”
“Generalis est praefatio, quam mox sequentur hypotheses.” — Lat. “C’est une preface generale, dont les applications speciales suivent incontinent apres.” — Fr.
Hammond’s objection to this is, that if כבור, glory, were in the construct state, governing the noun which follows, and giving this reading, the glory of his, praise, the vowel should be changed from kamets, to segol
This is Aben Ezra’s view. He would read, “Make your glory his praise;” that is, let it be your glory to praise him.
“Est enim hoc praecipuum laudis sacrificium, ut habetur, Psalmo 50:14, 23, ac verum etiam testimonium pietatis. — Lat. “Car c’est le principal sacrifice, que le sacrifice de louange, etc., et aussi le vray tesmoignage de piete.” — Fr.
Defectores — Lat Apostats — Fr The original word is הסוררים, hassorerim, from סור, sur, to turn aside
“On this Theodoret remarks, that when men bless God they offer him words only; but when God blesses man, it is not in word only, but in deed; an abundance of good things always accompanying the benediction.” — Cresswell
“Haec enim experimentalis (ut ita loquar) notitia magis afficit.” — Lat. “Car ceste cognoissance d’experience et de prattique esmeut d’avantage.” — Fr.
Our English version renders the word in this last sense. Hammond, with Calvin, prefers reading, “over the world.” “That עולם,” says he, “ἄιὼν, as the English age, signifies not only time and duration, but also the men that live in any time, there is no question. And then מושל עולם, must here most properly be rendered ruling the world, or over the world; and so the Chaldee certainly understood, who read, ‘who exerciseth dominion over the world;’ and so I suppose the LXX. their ‘δεσπόξουτι τοῦ ἀιῶνος,’ ‘having dominion over the world,’ doth import.” The Vulgate, in this instance not following the Septuagint, has “in aeternum,” “for ever.”
To ride over; signifies to insult or tyrannise over. But here the image may be taken from the trampling of war-horses in the day of battle. The cavalry, in the field of battle, pay no regard to the fallen, the dying, and the dead, but tread promiscuously upon all that come in their way, “Thou hast permitted us,” says Dr Adam Clarke, “to fall under the dominion of our enemies, who have treated us as broken infantry are when the cavalry dashes among their disordered ranks, treading all under their horses’ feet.”
“In planitiem.” — Lat. “En lieu plantureux.” — Fr.
“Per naufragium et incendium transiisse.” The French version reads, “Par l’eau et par le feu;” but it is important to retain the original more closely, as giving what Calvin considered to be the sense of the words in the text. Fire and water, the one of which elements consumes, while the other suffocates, is a proverbial expression, signifying, as our author afterwards states, extreme danger and complicated calamities. “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burnt,” Isa 43:2. See also Ps 32:6; Ezek. 16:6, 7; Nu 31:23. Those things are said to come into or to pass through the fire, which abide the same, without being consumed; and which, like metals, lose only thereby their dross.
Cresswell takes this view. His note on the place is, “‘Into a wealthy place,’ literally into an irriguous region, (comp. Jud 1:15,) i.e., into a fertile country, a land of abundance, the promised land: comp. Ex 3:8.”
Here Calvin, as well as our English Bible, joins incense with rams, appearing to mean by incense, offering by fire, the smoke produced by the sacrifice. But the burning of incense was a distinct offering from that of animal sacrifices; and therefore many critics read the verse so as to make incense a distinct offering. Thus Horsley, altering the punctuation, translates,
“Offerings of fatlings I will offer unto thee, with incense;
“I will sacrifice rams, bullocks, and full-grown goats.”
This, we think, gives an improved view of the passage. It may be here observed, that the Hebrews were not allowed to sacrifice other animals than these three kinds, rams, bullocks, and goats.
“Le Prophere loue yci le perfum de son holocauste, combien qu’il n’en peust monter au ciel qu’ une odeur puante et infecte: mais il faut noter que les beliers et autres bestes qu’on sacrifioit flairoyent bon devant Dieu, entant que c’estoyent figures de Iesus Christ.” — Fr.
In the original, the prefix ב, beth, for with is omitted, but it is evidently understood. The reading is simply פי, my mouth, for בפי, bephi, with my mouth It is not uncommon in Hebrew for some word or phrase to be omitted, which must be supplied by the reader, in order to complete the regular or full construction. Thus in Ps 114:8, to the words אגם-מים, agam-main, a pool of waters, the letter ל, lamed, is to be supplied, לאגם, laagam, into a pool of, etc.