Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 10: Psalms, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
The people of God in this psalm bewail the desolate condition of the Church, which was such that the very name of Israel was almost annihilated. It appears from their humble supplications that they impute to their own sins all the calamities which they endured; but at the same time they lay before God his own covenant by which he adopted the race of Abraham as his peculiar people. Afterwards they call to remembrance how mightily and gloriously he had in the days of old displayed his power in delivering his Church. Encouraging themselves from this consideration, they beseech Him that he would at length come to their aid, and remedy a state of matters so deplorable and desperate.
An instruction of Asaph.
The inscription משכיל, maskil, agrees very well with the subject of the psalm; for although it is sometimes applied to subjects of a joyful description, as we have seen in the forty-fifth psalm, yet it generally indicates that the subject treated of is the divine judgments, by which men are compelled to descend into themselves, and to examine their own sins, that they may humble themselves before God. It is easy to gather from the contents of the psalm, that its composition cannot be ascribed to David; for in his time there was no ground for mourning over such a wasted and calamitous condition of the Church as is here depicted. Those who are of a different opinion allege, that David by the spirit of prophecy foretold what had not yet come to pass. But as it is probable that there are many of the psalms which were composed by different authors after the death of David, this psalm, I have no doubt, is one of their number. What calamity is here spoken of, it is not easy precisely to determine. On this point there are two opinions. Some suppose that the reference is to that period of Jewish history when the city and the temple were destroyed, and when the people were carried away captives to Babylon under king Nebuchadnezzar; 211 and others, that it relates to the period when the temple was profaned, under Antiochus Epiphanes. There is some plausibility in both these opinions. From the fact that the faithful here complain of being now without signs and prophets, the latter opinion would seem the more probable; for it is well known that many prophets flourished when the people were carried into captivity. On the other hand, when it is said a little before that the sanctuaries were burnt to ashes, the carved works destroyed, and that nothing remained entire, these statements do not apply to the cruelty and tyranny of Antiochus. He indeed shamefully polluted the temple, by introducing into it heathen superstitions; but the building itself continued uninjured, and the timber and stones were not at that time consumed with fire. Some maintain that by sanctuaries we are to understand the synagogues in which the Jews were accustomed to hold their holy assemblies, not only at Jerusalem, but also in the other cities of Judea. It is also a supposable case, that the faithful beholding the awful desecration of the temple by Antiochus, were led from so melancholy a spectacle to carry their thoughts back to the time when it was burnt by the Chaldeans, and that they comprehend the two calamities in one description. Thus the conjecture will be more probable that these complaints belong to the time of Antiochus; 212 for the Church of God was then without prophets. If, however, any would rather refer it to the Babylonish captivity, it will be an easy matter to solve this difficulty; for although Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, were then alive, yet we know that they were silent for a time, as if they had finished the course of their vocation, until at length Daniel, a little before the day of their deliverance, again came forth for the purpose of inspiring the poor exiles with courage to return to their own country. To this the prophet Isaiah seems to have an eye, when he says in the fortieth chapter (Isa 40:1) of his prophecies at the beginning, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, will your God say.” The verb, which is there in the future tense, shows that the prophets were enjoined to hold their peace for a time.
1. O God! why hast thou cast us off for ever? why doth thy anger smoke against the flock of thy pastures? 2. Remember thy congregation, which thou hast possessed of old, the rod of thy inheritance which thou hast redeemed, this mount Zion on which thou hast dwelt. 3. Lift up thy strokes to destroy for ever every enemy that worketh mischief to thy sanctuary. 4. Thy adversaries have roared 213 in the midst of thy sanctuaries; they have set up their signs for signs. 5. He who lifted up the axes upon the thick trees was renowned as doing an excellent work. 6. And now they break in pieces the carved work thereof with axes and hammers together. 7. They have set on fire thy sanctuaries; they have polluted the dwelling-place of thy name, levelling it with the ground. 8. They have said in their heart, Let us destroy them all together: they have burned all the tabernacles of God in the land.
1. O God! why hast thou east us off for ever? If this complaint was written when the people were captives in Babylon, although Jeremiah had assigned the 70th year of their captivity as the period of their deliverance, it is not wonderful that waiting so long was to them a very bitter affliction, that they daily groaned under it, and that so protracted a period seemed to them like an eternity. As to those who were persecuted by the cruelty of Antiochus, they might, not without reason, complain of the wrath of God being perpetual, from their want of information as to any definite time when this persecution would terminate; and especially when they saw the cruelty of their enemies daily increasing without any hope of relief, and that their condition was constantly proceeding from bad to worse. Having been before this greatly reduced by the many disastrous wars, which their neighbors one after another had waged against them, they were now brought almost to the brink of utter destruction. It is to be observed, that the faithful, when persecuted by the heathen nations, lifted up their eyes to God, as if all the evils which they suffered had been inflicted by his hand alone. They were convinced, that had not God been angry with them, the heathen nations would not have been permitted to take such license in injuring them. Being persuaded, then, that they were not encountering merely the opposition of flesh and blood, but that they were afflicted by the just judgment of God, they direct their thoughts to the true cause of all their calamities, which was, that God, under whose favor they had formerly lived prosperous and happy, had cast them off, and deigned no longer to account them as his flock. The verb זנה, zanach, signifies to reject and detest, and sometimes also to withdraw one’s self to a distance. It is of no great moment in which of these senses it is here taken. We may consider the amount of what is stated as simply this, that whenever we are visited with adversities, these are not the arrows of fortune thrown against us at a venture, but the scourges or rods of God which, in his secret and mysterious providence, he prepares and makes use of for chastising our sins. Casting off and anger must here be referred to the apprehension or judgment of the flesh. Properly speaking, God is not angry with his elect, whose diseases he cures by afflictions as it were by medicines; but as the chastisements which we experience powerfully tend to produce in our minds apprehensions of his wrath, the Holy Spirit, by the word anger, admonishes the faithful to acknowledge their guilt in the presence of infinite purity. When, therefore, God executes his vengeance upon us, it is our duty seriously to reflect on what we have deserved, and to consider, that although He is not subject to the emotions of anger, yet it is not owing to us, who have grievously offended him by our sins, that his anger is not kindled against us. Moreover, his people, as a plea for obtaining mercy, flee to the remembrance of the covenant by which they were adopted to be his children. In calling themselves the flock of God’s pastures, they magnify his free choice of them by which they were separated from the Gentiles. This they express more plainly in the following verse.
2. Remember thy congregation, which thou hast possessed of old. 214 Here they boast of having been the peculiar people of God, not on account of any merit of their own, but by the grace of adoption. They boast in like manner of their antiquity, — that they are not subjects who have come under the government of God only within a few months ago, but such as had fallen to him by right of inheritance. The longer the period during which he had continued his love towards the seed of Abraham, the more fully was their faith confirmed. They declare, therefore, that they had been God’s people from the beginning, that is, ever since he had entered into an inviolable covenant with Abraham. There is also added the redemption by which the adoption was ratified; for God did not only signify by word, but also showed by deed at the time when this redemption was effected, that he was their King and Protector. These benefits which they had received from God they set before themselves as an encouragement to their trusting in him, and they recount them before him, the benefactor who bestowed them, as an argument with him not to forsake the work of his own hands. Inspired with confidence by the same benefits, they call themselves the rod of his inheritance; that is to say, the heritage which he had measured out for himself. The allusion is to the custom which then prevailed of measuring or marking out the boundaries of grounds with poles as with cords or lines. Some would rather translate the word שבט, shebet, which we have rendered rod, by tribe; but I prefer the other translation, taking the meaning to be, that God separated Israel from the other nations to be his own proper ground, by the secret pre-ordination which originated in his own good pleasure, as by a measuring rod. In the last place, the temple in which God had promised to dwell is mentioned; not that his essence was enclosed in that place, — an observation which has already been frequently made, — but because his people experienced that there he was near at hand, and present with them by his power and grace. We now clearly perceive whence the people derived confidence in prayer; it was from God’s free election and promises, and from the sacred worship which had been set up among them.
3. Lift up thy strokes. Here the people of God, on the other hand, beseech him to inflict a deadly wound upon their enemies, corresponding to the cruelty with which they had raged against his sanctuary. They would intimate, that a moderate degree of punishment was not sufficient for such impious and sacrilegious fury; and that, therefore, those who had shown themselves such violent enemies of the temple and of the worshippers of God should be completely destroyed, their impiety being altogether desperate. As the Holy Spirit has dictated this form of prayer, we may infer from it, in the first place, the infinite love which God bears towards us, when he is pleased to punish so severely the wrongs inflicted upon us; and, in the second place, the high estimation in which he holds the worship yielded to his Divine majesty, when he pursues with such rigour those who have violated it. With respect to the words, some translate פעמים, pheamim, which we have rendered strokes, by feet or steps, 215 and understand the Church as praying that the Lord would lift up his feet, and run swiftly to strike her enemies. Others translate it hammers, 216 which suits very well. I have, however, no hesitation in following the opinion of those who consider the reference to be to the act of striking, and that the strokes themselves are denoted. The last clause of the verse is explained by some as meaning that the enemy had corrupted all things in the sanctuary. 217 But as this construction is not to be found elsewhere, I would not depart from the received and approved reading.
4. Thy adversaries have roared in the midst of thy sanctuaries. Here the people of God compare their enemies to lions, (Am 3:8,) to point out the cruelty which they exercised even in the very sanctuaries of God. 218 In this passage we are to understand the temple of Jerusalem as spoken of rather than the Jewish synagogues; nor is it any objection to this interpretation that the temple is here called in the plural number sanctuaries, as is frequently the case in other places, it being so called because it was divided into three parts. If any, however, think it preferable to consider synagogues as intended, I would not dispute the point. Yea, without any impropriety, it may be extended to the whole land, which God had consecrated to himself. But the language is much more emphatic when we consider the temple as meant. It thus intimates, that the rage of the enemy was so unbounded and indiscriminate that they did not even spare the temple of God. When it is said, They have set up their signs, 219 this serves to show their insulting and contemptuous conduct, that in erecting their standards they proudly triumphed even over God himself. Some explain this of magical divinations, 220 even as Ezekiel testifies, (Ezek. 21:21, 22,) that Nebuchadnezzar sought counsel from the flight and the voice of birds; but this sense is too restricted. The explanation which I have given may be viewed as very suitable. Whoever entered into the Holy Land knew that the worship of God which flourished there was of a special character, and different from that which was performed in any other part of the world: 221 the temple was a token of the presence of God, and by it he seemed, as if with banners displayed, to hold that people under his authority and dominion. With these symbols, which distinguished the chosen tribes from the heathen nations, the prophet here contrasts the sacrilegious standards which their enemies had brought into the temple. 222 By repeating the word signs twice, he means to aggravate the abominable nature of their act; for having thrown down the tokens and ensigns of the true service of God, they set up in their stead strange symbols.
5. He who lifted up the axe upon the thick trees was renowned. The prophet again aggravates still more the barbarous and brutal cruelty of the enemies of his countrymen, from the circumstance, that they savagely demolished an edifice which had been built at such vast expense, which was embellished with such beauty and magnificence, and finished with so great labor and art. There is some obscurity in the words; but the sense in which they are almost universally understood is, that when the temple was about to be built, those who cut and prepared the wood required for it were in great reputation and renown. Some take the verb מביא, mebi, in an active sense, and explain the words as meaning that the persons spoken of were illustrious and well known, as if they had offered sacrifices to God. The thickness of the trees is set in opposition to the polished beams, to show the more clearly with what exquisite art the rough and unwrought timber was brought into a form of the greatest beauty and magnificence. Or the prophet means, what I am inclined to think is the more correct interpretation, that in the thick forests, where there was vast abundance of wood, great care was taken in the selection of the trees, that none might be cut down but such as were of the very best quality. May it not perhaps be understood in this sense, That in these thick forests the trees to which the axe was to be applied were well known and marked, as being already of great height, and exposed to the view of beholders? Whatever may be as to this, the prophet, there is no doubt, in this verse commends the excellence of the material which was selected with such care, and was so exquisite, that it attracted the gaze and excited the admiration of all who saw it; even as in the following verse, by the carved or graven work is meant the beauty of the building, which was finished with unequalled art, But now it is declared, that the Chaldeans, with utter recklessness, made havoc with their axes upon this splendid edifice, as if it had been their object to tread under foot the glory of God by destroying so magnificent a structure. 223
7. They have set fire to thy sanctuaries. The Psalmist now complains that the temple was burned, and thus completely razed and destroyed, whereas it was only half demolished by the instruments of war. Many have supposed that the order of the words has been here inverted, 224 not being able to perceive how a suitable meaning could be elicited from them, and therefore would resolve them thus, They have put fire into thy sanctuaries. I have, however, no doubt that the sense which I have given, although the accent is against it, is the true and natural one, That the temple was levelled with the ground by being burned. This verse corroborates more fully the statement which I have made, that the temple is called sanctuaries in the plural number, because it consisted of three parts, — the innermost sanctuary, the middle sanctuary, and the outer court; for there immediately follows the expression, The dwelling-place of thy name. The name of God is here employed to teach us that his essence was not confined to or shut up in the temple, but that he dwelt in it by his power and operation, that the people might there call upon him with the greater confidence.
8. They have said in their heart, Let us destroy them all together. To express the more forcibly the atrocious cruelty of the enemies of the Church, the prophet introduces them speaking together, and exciting one another to commit devastation without limit or measure. His language implies, that each of them, as if they had not possessed enough of courage to do mischief, stirred up and stimulated his fellow to waste and destroy the whole of God’s people, without leaving so much as one of them. In the close of the verse he asserts that all the synagogues were burned. I readily take the Hebrew word מועדים, moadim, in the sense of synagogues, 225 because he says ALL the sanctuaries, and speaks expressly of the whole land. It is a frigid explanation which is given by some, that these enemies, upon finding that they could not hurt or do violence to the sanctuary of God in heaven, turned their rage against the material temple or synagogues. The prophet simply complains that they were so intent upon blotting out the name of God, that they left not a single corner on which there was not the mark of the hand of violence. The Hebrew word מועדים, moadim, is commonly taken for the sanctuary; but when we consider its etymology, it is not inappropriately applied to those places where the holy assemblies were wont to be held, not only for reading and expounding the prophets, but also for calling upon the name of God. The wicked, as if the prophet had said, have done all in their power to extinguish and annihilate the worship of God in Judea.
9. We see not our signs: there is no longer a prophet, nor any with us that knoweth how long. 10. How long, O God! shall the adversary reproach? shall the enemy blaspheme thy name for ever? 11. How long wilt thou withdraw thy hand, and thy right hand? in the midst of thy bosom consume them. 226 12. But God is my King from the beginning, working deliverances in the midst of the earth.
9. We see not our signs. Here the pious Jews show that their calamities were aggravated from the circumstance that they had no consolation by which to alleviate them. It is a powerful means of encouraging the children of God, when he enables them to cherish the hope of his being reconciled to them, by promising, that even in the midst of his wrath he will remember his mercy. Some limit the signs here spoken of to the miracles by which God had in the days of old testified, at the very time when he was afflicting his people, that he would, notwithstanding, still continue to be gracious to them. But the faithful rather complain that he had removed from them the tokens of his favor, and had in a manner hidden his face from them. 227 We are overwhelmed with darkness, as if the prophet had said, because thou, O God! dost not make thy face to shine upon us as thou hast been accustomed to do. Thus it is common for us to speak of persons giving us signs either of their love or of their hatred. In short, God’s people here complain not only that the time was cloudy and dark, but also that they were enveloped in darkness so thick, that there did not appear so much as a single ray of light. As to be assured by the prophets of future deliverance was one of the chief signs of God’s favor, they lament that there is no longer a prophet to foresee the end of their calamities. From this we learn that the office of imparting consolation was committed to the prophets, that they might lift up the hearts which were cast down with sorrow, by inspiring them with the hope of Divine mercy. They were, it is true, heralds and witnesses of the wrath of God to drive the obstinate and rebellious to repentance by threatenings and terrors. But had they merely and without qualification denounced the vengeance of God, their doctrine, which was appointed and intended for the salvation of the people, would have only been the means of their destruction. Accordingly, the foretelling of the issue of calamities while yet hidden in the future, is ascribed to them as a part of their office; for temporary punishments are the fatherly chastisements of God, and the consideration that they are temporary alleviates sorrow; but his continual displeasure causes poor and wretched sinners to sink into utter despair. If, therefore, we also would find matter for patience and consolation, when we are under the chastening hand of God, let us learn to fix our eyes on this moderation on the part of God, by which he encourages us to entertain good hope; and from it let us rest assured, that although he is angry, yet he ceases not to be a father. The correction which brings deliverance does not inflict unmitigated grief: the sadness which it produces is mingled with joy. This end all the prophets endeavored to keep in view in the doctrine which they delivered. They, no doubt, often make use of very hard and severe language in their dealings with the people, in order, by inspiring them with terror, to break and subdue their rebellion; but whenever they see men humbled, they immediately address them in words of consolation, which, however, would be no consolation at all, were they not encouraged to hope for future deliverance.
The question may here be asked, whether God, with the view of assuaging the sadness arising from the chastisement, which he inflicted, always determined the number of years and days during which they would last? To this I answer, that although the prophets have not always marked out and defined a fixed time, yet they frequently gave the people assurance that deliverance was near at hand; and, moreover, all of them spoke of the future restoration of the Church. If it is again objected, that the people in their affliction did wrong in not applying to themselves the general promises, which it is certain were the common property of all ages, I answer, that as it was God’s usual way to send in every affliction a messenger to announce the tidings of deliverance, the people, when at the present time no prophet appeared to be expressly sent for that purpose, not without cause complain that they were deprived of the signs of the Divine favor which they had been accustomed to enjoy. Until the coming of Christ it was highly necessary that the memory of the promised deliverance should be renewed in every age, to show the people of God that to whatever afflictions they might be subjected, he still continued to care for them, and would afford them succor.
10. How long, O God! shall the adversary reproach? Here it is intimated that nothing inflicted upon them greater anguish than when they saw the name of God blasphemed by the ungodly. By this manner of praying, the object of the inspired writer was to kindle in our hearts a zeal for maintaining the Divine glory. We are naturally too delicate and tender for bearing calamities; but it is a decided proof of genuine godliness, when the contumely which is cast upon God grieves and disquiets our minds more than all our own personal sufferings. The poor Jews, there can be no doubt, were assailed with more kinds of reproach than one under a most cruel tyrant, and amongst a barbarous nation. But the prophet, speaking in the person of the whole Church, makes almost no account of the reproaches cast upon the people in comparison of the execrable blasphemies directed against God; according to the statement contained in Ps 69:9, “The reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me.” The phrase for ever is again added; for when the ungodly continue long unpunished, this has a hardening effect, and renders them more audacious, especially when the revilings which they pour forth against God seem to pass unnoticed by him. It is, therefore, added immediately after in the 11th verse,
11. How long wilt thou withdraw thy hand? It is easy to see what the prophet here intends, and yet interpreters are not agreed as to the words. Some by the word hand, in the first part of the verse, understand the left hand, to distinguish it from the right hand, mentioned in the last clause of the verse. But this is mere trifling; for when he uses the term right hand, he simply repeats the same thing according to his usual manner. Some translate the verb כלה, kalah, the last word of the verse, by hinder or restrain, as if the prophet had said, Do thou at length stretch forth thy hand, which has been kept too long in thy bosom. But this is a forced sense, to which they have recourse without any color of reason. Those who translate it consume understand the midst of God’s bosom, as denoting allegorically his temple, 228 an interpretation of which I cannot approve. It will be better to continue the interrogation to the last word in this way: “How long wilt thou withdraw thy hand? Yea, wilt thou withdraw it from the midst of thy bosom? Consume, therefore, these ungodly men who so proudly despise thee.” We may also not improperly view the words as a prayer that as God’s enemies persuaded themselves that he was slothful and idle, because he did not bestir himself, nor openly lift up his hand; he would cause them to feel that he was perfectly able to destroy them with his nod alone, although he should not move so much as a finger.
12. But God is my King from the beginning. In this verse, as we have often seen to be the case in other places, the people of God intermingle meditations with their prayers, thereby to acquire renewed vigor to their faith, and to stir up themselves to greater earnestness in the duty of prayer. We know how difficult it is to rise above all doubts, and boldly to persevere in a free and unrestrained course of prayer. Here, then, the faithful call to remembrance the proofs of God’s mercy and working, by which he certified, through a continued series of ages, that he was the King and Protector of the people whom he had chosen. By this example we are taught, that as it is not enough to pray with the lips unless we also pray in faith, we ought always to remember the benefits by which God has given a confirmation of his fatherly love towards us, and should regard them as so many testimonies of his electing love. It is quite clear that the title King, which is here applied to God, ought not to be restricted merely to his sovereignty. He is addressed by this appellation because he had taken upon him the government of the Jewish people, in order to preserve and maintain them in safety. We have already stated what is implied in the words, from the beginning. By the midst of the earth some think that Judea is intended, because it was situated as it were in the midst of the habitable globe. There is no doubt that it is to be understood of a place which stands prominently in view. We find the expression used in this sense in these words which God commanded Moses to speak to Pharaoh,
“And I will sever in that day the land of Goshen, in which my people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there; to the end thou mayest know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth,”
The simple and natural meaning, therefore, is, that God had wrought in behalf of the chosen people many deliverances, which were as open and manifest as if they had been exhibited on a conspicuous theater.
13. Thou hast divided the sea by thy 229 power: thou hast broken the heads of the dragons 230 upon the waters. 14. Thou hast broken the head 231 of Leviathan 232 in pieces, and hast given him for food to thy people in the wilderness. 15. Thou hast cleaved [or divided] the fountain and the torrent: thou hast dried up mighty rivers. 16. The day is thine, the night also is thine: thou hast ordained 233 the light 234 and the sun. 17. Thou hast set [or fixed] all the boundaries of the earth: thou hast made the summer and the winter.
13. Thou hast divided the sea by thy power. The prophet now collects together certain kinds of deliverances highly worthy of remembrance; all of them, however, belonging to the first deliverance by which God emancipated his people from the tyranny of Egypt. We will find him afterwards descending to the general commendation of the goodness of God which is diffused through the whole world. Thus from the special grace which God vouchsafes to his Church, he passes on to speak of the good-will which he displays towards all mankind. In the first place, he says, Thou hast divided, or cleaved, the sea. Some think that the following clause is subjoined as an effect of what is stated in the first clause, — God, by drying up the sea, having caused the whales and other great fishes to die. I am, however, of opinion, that it is to be taken metaphorically for Pharaoh and his army; this mode of expression being very common among the prophets, especially when they speak of the Egyptians, whose country was washed by a sea abounding with fish, and divided by the Nile. Pharaoh is, therefore, not improperly termed Leviathan, 235 on account of the advantages of the sea possessed by his country, and because, in reigning over that land with great splendor, he might be compared to a whale moving up and down at its ease in the midst of the waters of the mighty ocean. 236 As God put forth his power at that time for the deliverance of the people, to assure the Church that he would always be her protector and the guardian of her welfare, the encouragement afforded by this example ought not to be limited exclusively to one age. It is, therefore, with good reason applied to the descendants of that ancient race, that they might improve it as a means of confirming and establishing their faith. The prophet does not here recount all the miracles which God had wrought at the departure of the people from the land of Egypt; but in adverting to some of them, he comprehends by the figure synecdoche, all that Moses has narrated concerning them at greater length. When he says that leviathan was given for food to the Israelites, and that even in the wilderness, 237 there is a beautiful allusion to the destruction of Pharaoh and his host. It is as if he had said, that then a bountiful provision of victuals was laid up for the nourishment of the people; for when their enemies were destroyed, the quiet and security which the people in consequence enjoyed served, so to speak, as food to prolong their life. By the wilderness, is not meant the countries lying on the sea coast, though they are dry and barren, but the deserts at a great distance from the sea. The same subject is prosecuted in the following verse, where it is declared, that the fountain was cleaved or divided, that is, it was so when God caused a stream of water to gush from the rock to supply the wants of the people. 238 Finally, it is added, that mighty rivers 239 were dried up, an event which happened when God caused the waters of the Jordan to turn back to make a way for his people to pass over. Some would have the Hebrew word איתן, ethan, which signifies mighty, to be a proper name, as if the correct translation were rivers of Ethan; but this interpretation is altogether without foundation.
16. The day is thine, the night also is thine. The prophet now descends to the consideration of the divine benefits which are extended in common to all mankind. Having commenced with the special blessings by which God manifested himself to be the Father of his chosen people, he now aptly declares that God exercises his beneficence towards the whole human family. He teaches us, that it is not by chance that the days and nights succeed each other in regular succession, but that this order was established by the appointment of God. The secondary cause of these phenomena is added, being that arrangement by which God has invested the sun with the power and office of illuminating the earth; for after having spoken of the light he adds the sun, as the principal means of communicating it, and, so to speak, the chariot in which it is brought when it comes to show itself to men. 240 As then the incomparable goodness of God towards the human race clearly shines forth in this beautiful arrangement, the prophet justly derives from it an argument for strengthening and establishing his trust in God.
17. Thou hast fixed 241 all the boundaries of the earth. What is here stated concerning the boundaries or limits assigned to the earth, and concerning the regular and successive recurrence of summer and winter every year, is to the same effect as the preceding verse. It is doubtful whether the prophet means the uttermost ends of the world, or whether he speaks of the particular boundaries by which countries are separate from each other. Although the latter are often disturbed by the violence of men, whose insatiable cupidity and ambition cannot be restrained by any of the lines of demarcation which exist in the world, but are always endeavoring to break through them; 242 yet God manifests his singular goodness in assigning to each nation its own territory upon which to dwell. I am, however, rather of opinion, that the clause is to be understood of those bounds which cannot be confounded at the will of men, and consider the meaning to be, that God has allotted to men as much space of earth as he has seen to be sufficient for them to dwell upon. Farther, the well regulated successions of summer and winter clearly indicate with what care and benignity God has provided for the necessities of the human family. From this, the prophet justly concludes, that nothing is more improbable than that God should neglect to act the part of a father towards his own flock and household.
18. Remember this: the adversary hath blasphemed Jehovah: and a worthless people hath done despite to thy name. 19. Give not to the beast the soul of thy turtle dove: forget not the congregation of thy poor ones for ever. 20. Have regard to thy covenant: for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of violence. 21. Let not him who is oppressed [or afflicted] return ashamed: let the poor and needy one praise thy name. 22. Arise, O God! Plead thy cause: remember thy reproach, which is done to thee by the foolish man daily. 23. Forget not the voice of thy adversaries: the tumult of those who rise up against thee ascendeth continually.
18. Remember this. The prophet having encouraged the hearts of the godly by magnifying the divine power and goodness, now returns to the prosecution of his prayer. He first complains that the enemies of his people revile God, and yet continue unpunished. When he says, Remember this, the manner of expression is emphatic; and the occasion demanded it, for it is not a crime of small magnitude to treat with contumely the sacred name of God. For the sake of contrast, he states that it was a worthless or foolish people who thus presumed insolently to pour forth their reproaches against God. The Hebrew word נבל, nabal, denotes not only a foolish man, but also a wicked and infamous person. The prophet, therefore, justly describes the despisers of God as people who are vile and worthless.
19. Give not to the beast the soul of thy turtle dove. The Hebrew word חית, chayath, which we translate beast, signifies sometimes the soul or life, and so some explain it in the second clause of this verse, where it again occurs. But it is here unquestionably to be taken either for a wild beast or for a multitude. Understood in either of these ways, this form of expression will contain a very apposite comparison between the life of a weak and timorous bird, and a powerful army of men, or a cruel beast. The Church is compared to a turtle dove 243 for, although the faithful consisted of a considerable number, yet so far were they from matching their enemies, that, on the contrary, they were exposed to them as a prey. It is next added, Forget not the soul or congregation of thy poor ones The Hebrew word חית, chayath, is again employed, and there is an elegance when, on account of its ambiguity, it is used twice in the same verse, but in different senses. I have preferred translating it congregation, rather than soul, because the passage seems to be a prayer that it would please God to watch over and defend his own small flock from the mighty hosts of their enemies.
20. Have regard to thy covenant. That God may be the more inclined to show mercy, the prophet brings to his remembrance the Divine covenant; even as the refuge of the saints, when they have found themselves involved in extreme dangers, has always been to hope for deliverance, because God had promised, in the covenant which he made with them, to be a father to then, From this we learn, that the only firm support on which our prayers can rest is, that God has adopted us to be his people by his free choice. Whence, also, it appears how devilish was the phrensy of that filthy dog Servetus, who was not ashamed to affirm that it is foolish, and gross mockery, to lay before God his own promises when we are engaged in prayer. Farther, the godly Jews again show us how severely they were afflicted, when they declare that violence and oppression were everywhere prevalent; as if all places were the haunts of cut-throats and the dens of robbers. 244 It is said the dark places of the earth; for, whenever God seems to hide his face, the wicked imagine that whatever wickedness they may commit, they will find, wherever they may be, hiding-places by which to cover it all.
21. Let not him who is oppressed return with shame. The word return, as it has a reference to God, is equivalent to the expression, to go away empty. The faithful, then, beseech Him that they may not be put to shame by suffering a repulse at his hands. They call themselves afflicted, poor, and needy, as an argument to obtain the Divine favor and mercy. It is, however, to be observed, that they do not speak insincerely, nor give an exaggerated representation of their distresses, but intimate, that by so many calamities they were brought to such a low condition, that there no longer remained for them any quarter in the world from which they could expect any help. By this example, we are taught that when we are reduced to the greatest extremity, there is a remedy always ready for our misery, in calling upon God.
22. Arise, O God! plead thy cause. The pious Jews again supplicate God to ascend into his judgment-seat. He is then said to arise, when, after having long exercised forbearance, he shows, in very deed, that he has not forgotten his office as judge. To induce him to undertake this cause the more readily, they call upon him to maintain his own right. Lord, as if they had said, since the matter in hand is what peculiarly concerns thyself; it is not time for thee to remain inactive. They declare, at the same time, how this was, in a special sense, the cause of God. It was so, because the foolish people daily cast reproaches upon him. We may here again translate the word נבל, nabal, the worthless people, instead of the foolish people. The wickedness charged against the persons spoken of is aggravated from the circumstance, that, not content with reproaching God on one occasion, they continued their derision and mockery without intermission. For this reason, the faithful conclude by invoking God that he would not forget such heaven-daring conduct in men who not only had the audacity to reproach his majesty, but who fiercely and outrageously poured forth their blasphemies against him. They seemed, it is true, to do this indirectly; but, as they despised God, it is asserted that they rose up against him with reckless and infatuated presumption, after the manner of the Giants of old, and that their haughtiness was carried to the greatest excess.
This is the opinion of Calmet, Poole, Wells, Mant, Walford, and others. “A melancholy occasion,” says Mant, “commemorated by an elegy of corresponding tenderness and plaintiveness. It would be difficult to name a finer specimen of elegiac poetry than this pathetic psalm of Asaph.” If it was composed during the Babylonish captivity, and if Asaph, whose name is in the title, was the author of it, he must have been a different person from David’s contemporary, previously noticed, (volume 2, page 257, note,) — probably a descendant of the same name and family. Dr Gill thinks that he was the Asaph of the time of David, and supposes that under the influence of the spirit of prophecy, he might speak of the sufferings of the Church in after ages, just as David and others testified before-hand of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow.
Rosenmüller is of opinion that this is the period referred to. “For my part,” says Dr Geddes, “I think it must have been composed during the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes; and the best commentary on it is the first chapter of the first book of Maccabees. The author may have been Mattathias.”
“Ont rugi comme lions.” — Fr. “Have roared like lions.”
Archbishop Secker thinks that this verse may be read thus: “Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased, hast redeemed of old; the tribe of thine inheritance; this mount Zion,” etc.
“That פעמים means feet or steps is evident from Ps 17:5 Ps 57:6; and Ps 58:10 Lift up thy feet, advance not slowly or by stealth, but with large and stately steps, full in the view of all; come to thy sanctuary, so long suffered to lie waste; examine what has been done there, and let thy grace and aid, hitherto so much withheld, be extended to us.” — Gejer To lift up the feet is a Hebraism for “to put one’s self in motion;” “to set out on a journey,” as may be learned from Ge 29:1, where of Jacob it is said, “He lifted up his feet, and went into the east country.” Lifting up the feet is used for going, in the same way as opening the mouth is for speaking.
“There is another notion of פעם, for a mallet or hammer, Isa 41:7 and Kimchi would have that to be the meaning here,הורם פעם, ‘lift up thy mallet,’ in opposition to the ‘axes and hammers,’ verse 6; and thus also Abu Walid, ‘lift up thy dashing instruments.’ And the LXX., who read, ἔπαρον τάς χεῖρας, ‘lift up thy hands,’ come near this.” — Hammond
This is the sense put upon the words by some Jewish interpreters. Thus Abu Walid reads, “Lift up thy dashing instruments, because of the utter destructions which the enemy hath made, and because of all the evil that he hath done in or on the sanctuary.” Aben Ezra has, “because of the perpetual desolations,” that is, because of thy inheritance which is laid waste. Piscator takes the same view: “Betake thyself to Jerusalem, that thou mayest see these perpetual desolations which the Babylonians have wrought.” In like manner, Gejer, who observes that this sense is preferable to that which considers the words as a prayer, that God would lift up his feet for the perpetual ruin of the enemy, because the Psalmist has been hitherto occupied with a mere description of misery, and has used nothing of the language of imprecation. But the Chaldee has, “Lift up thy goings or footsteps, to make desolate the nations for ever;” that is, Come and spread desolation among those enemies who have invaded and so cruelly reduced thy sanctuary to ruins.
Instead of songs of praise and other acts of devotion, nothing was now heard in the Jewish places of worship but profane vociferation, and the tumultuous noise of a heathen army. This is with great beauty and effect compared to the roaring of a lion.
Hammond reads, “They set up their ensigns for trophies.” The original word both for ensigns and trophies is אות, oth But he observes that it requires here to be differently translated. אות, oth, signifies a sign, and thence a military standard or ensign The setting up of this in any place which has been taken by arms, is a token or sign of the victory achieved; and, accordingly, an ensign or standard thus set up becomes a trophy To convey, therefore, the distinctive meaning, he contends that it is necessary in this passage to give different renderings to the same word.
That is, they understand signs to mean such signs as diviners or soothsayers were wont to give, by which to foretell things to come. Jarchi, who adopts this interpretation, gives this sense: That the enemies of God’s people having completed their conquest according to the auspices or signs of soothsayers, were fully convinced that these signs were real signs; in other words, that the art of divination was true.
“Qu’il y avoit un service divine special et different de ce qui se faisoit ailleurs.” — Fr.
“Their own symbols they have set for signs. Profane representations, no doubt, agreeable to their own worship. See 1Ma 1:47.” — Dr Geddes.
In the English Common Prayer-Book the 5th and 6th verses are translated thus: — “He that hewed timber afore out of the thick trees was known to bring it to an excellent work. But now they break down all the carved work thereof with axes and hammers.” Dr Nicholls’ paraphrase of this is as follows: “It is well known from the sacred records of our nation to what admirable beauty the skillful hand of the artificers brought the rough cedar trees, which were cut down by the hatchets of Hiram’s woodmen in the thick Tyrian forests. But now they tear down all the curious carvings, that cost so much time and exquisite labor, with axes and hammers, and other rude instruments of iron.” “This is a clear and consistent sense of the passages” says Mant, “and affords a striking and well imagined contrast.”
The order of the words is this, שלחו באש מקדשך shilchu baesh mikdashecha, literally, “They have sent into fire thy sanctuary.”
It has been objected, that if this psalm was composed at the time of the captivity of the Jews by Nebuchadnezzar, and the desolation of the Holy Land by the Chaldeans, מועדי, moadey, cannot signify synagogues, because the Jews had no synagogues for public worship or public instruction till after the Babylonish captivity. Accordingly, Dr Prideaux thinks that the Proseuchae are meant. These were courts resembling those in which the people prayed at the tabernacle, and afterwards at the temple, built by those who lived at a distance from Jerusalem, and who were unable at all times to resort thither. They were erected as places in which the Jews might offer up their daily prayers. “They differed,” says Prideaux, “from synagogues in several particulars. For, first, In synagogues the prayers were offered up in public forms in common for the whole congregation; but in the Proseuchae they prayed as in the temple, every one apart for himself. Secondly, The synagogues were covered houses; but the Proseuchae were open courts, built in the manner of forums, which were open enclosures. Thirdly, Synagogues were all built within the cities to which they did belong; but the Proseuchae without.” — Connection of the History, etc., Part 1, Book 6, pages 139-141. Synagogues were afterwards used for the same purpose as the Proseuchae, and hence both come to be designated by the same name. The same author supposes that those places in the cities of the Levites, and the schools of the prophets, whither the people resorted for instruction, having been called, as well as the Proseuchae, מועדי-אל, moadey-el, are also here intended. “The word מועדי, moadey,” says Dr Adam Clarke, “which we translate synagogues, may be taken in a more general sense, and mean any places where religious assemblies were held; and that such places and assemblies did exist long before the Babylonish captivity is pretty evident from different parts of Scripture.” See 2Ki 4:23; Eze 33:31; Ac 15:21. All such places were consumed to ashes by the hostile invaders whose ravages are bewailed, it having been their purpose to extinguish for ever the Jewish religion, and, as the most likely means of effecting their object, to destroy every memorial of it.
“We see not any token of thy Divine presence with us.” — Tremellius.
The verb, which is, כלה, kalleh, in Pihel conjugation, is from כלה, kalah, consumptus est In Ps 59:13, it is twice used, כלה בחמה כלה, kalleh bechemah kalleh, “consume them in wrath, consume them.” Consume, therefore, appears to be a preferable translation to pluck, which is that of our English version.
“The Jewish Arab reads, ‘Turn not from them thy hand, even thy right hand, but consume them out of the midst of thy house,’ giving a note, that the house of God is called חיק.” — Hammond
There is here a change of person, and a transition from the narrative form of speech to the apostrophe, which give animation to the composition, and enhances its poetical beauty.
The word תנינים, thanninim, for dragons, is used by the sacred writers somewhat indeterminately, and translators render it variously, as by whales, serpents, dragons, crocodiles, and other sea-monsters. (See Ge 1:21; Ex 7:12; De 32:33; and Ps 148:7.) We cannot now ascertain what particular animal is in each case denoted, and it may very probably be merely a general term equivalent to our word “monster,” for any strange and prodigious creature. תנינים, thanninim, is here explained by Williams as denoting “sea-monsters or large serpents.” “What animal is meant by this name,” says Mant, “is not well ascertained. But it seems to have been some aquatic or amphibious creature commonly known in the neighborhood of Egypt, but not the crocodile, as that is noticed under a different name in the following verse.” By the dragons the Egyptian people may be intended.
In the Hebrew it is “the heads.”
“C’est, le plus grand monstre marin qui soit.” — Fr. marg. “That is, the greatest sea-monster which exists.”
“Ou, establi.” — Fr. marg. “Or, established.”
מאור, maor, here rendered the light, from אור, or, to shine, signifies in general any luminary or receptacle of light; the sun or the moon indiscriminately. See Ge 1:16. But being here joined with and opposed to the sun, as the night is to the day in the preceding clause, it has been supposed to signify the moon, the luminary of the night, as the sun is that of the day. The Chaldee, the LXX., the Syriac, and Arabic, render it the moon The Vulgate has “auroram,” “the morning.”
Calvin supposes that the whale is the animal here referred to, and this was the opinion for a long time universally held. But from a comparison of the description given by Job of the Leviathan (Job 41) with what is known of the natural history of the crocodile, there can be little doubt that the crocodile is the Leviathan of Scripture. This is now very generally agreed upon. “Almost all the oldest commentators,” says Dr Good, “I may say unconditionally all of them concurred in regarding the whale as the animal” intended by the Leviathan. “Beza and Diodati were among the first to interpret it ‘the crocodile.’ And Bochart has since supported this last rendering with a train of argument, which has nearly overwhelmed all opposition, and has brought almost every commentator over to his opinion.” — Dr Good’s New Translation of Job “With respect to the Leviathan,” says Fry, “all are now pretty well agreed that it can apply only to the crocodile, and probably it was nothing but a defective knowledge of the language of the book of Job, or of the natural history of this stupendous animal, which led former commentators to imagine the description applicable to any other.” — Fry’s New Translation and Exposition of the Book of Job This Egyptian animal, the crocodile of the Nile, as we have formerly observed, (p. 38, note,) was anciently employed as a symbol of the Egyptian power, or of their king. Parkhurst remarks that in Scheuchzer’s Physica Sacra may be seen a medal with Julius Caesar’s head on one side, and on the reverse a crocodile with this inscription, — Ægypte Capta, Egypt Taken. This strengthens the conclusion that the crocodile is the animal intended by the name Leviathan. Both the etymology of the name Leviathan, and to what language it belongs, according to Simonis, are unknown. But according to Gesenius it signifies “properly the twisted animal.” It is affirmed by the Arabic lexicographers quoted by Bochart, (Phaleg Lib. 1, cap. 15,) that Pharaoh in the Egyptian language signified a crocodile; and if so, there may be some such allusion to his name in this passage, and in Eze 29:3, and Eze 32:2, where the king of Egypt is represented by the same animal, as was made to the name of Draco, when Herodicus (in a sarcasm recorded by Aristotle, Rhet Lib. 2, cap. 23) said that his laws, — which were very severe, — were the laws οὐκ ἀνθρώπου ἀλλὰ δράκοντος, non hominis sed draconis. — Merrick’s Annotations “The heads of Leviathan” may denote the princes of Egypt, or the leaders of the Egyptian armies.
“Regnoit en grand triomphe, comme la balene se pourmene a sou aise au milieu de ce grande amas d’eaux.” — Fr.
Calvin reads, “thy people in the wilderness.” But thy has nothing to represent it in the original, which literally is, “to a people, to those of the wilderness.” Those who adopt this rendering are not agreed as to what is to be understood by the expression. Some think it means the birds and beasts of prey, who devoured the dead bodies of Pharaoh and the Egyptian army, when cast upon the coast of the Red Sea by the tides. See Ex 14:30. If such is the meaning, these birds and beasts of prey are called “the people of wilderness,” as being its principal inhabitants. That עם, am, people, is sometimes to be thus interpreted in Scripture is evident from Prov. 30:25, 26, where both the ants and the conies are styled a people But as the desert on the coast of which the Egyptians were thrown up was inhabited by tribes of people who lived on fishes — even on those of the largest kind, which they found cast upon the shore by the tides — and were from thence called Ιχθυοφάγοι, or fish-eaters; some interpreters suppose that these are “the people of the wilderness” here mentioned; and that as Pharaoh and his host are represented under the figure of the Leviathan and other monsters of the deep, so these people, in allusion to their common way of living, are figuratively said to have preyed on their dead bodies, by which is understood their enriching themselves with their spoils.
“Quand Dieu feit que de la roche saillit un cours d’eau pour la necessite du peuple.” — Fr.
It is rivers in the plural, from which it would appear that the Jordan was not the only river which was dried up, to give an easy passage to the Israelites. The Chaldee specifies the Arnon, the Jabbok, and the Jordan, as the rivers here referred to. With respect to the Jordan, see Jos 3:16. As to the miraculous drying up either of the Arnon or the Jabbok, we have no distinct account in Scripture. But in Numbers 21, after it is mentioned, Nu 21:13, that the Israelites “pitched on the other side of Arnon,” it follows, Num. 21:14, 15, “Wherefore, it is said in the book of the wars of the Lord, What he did in the Red Sea, and in the brooks of Arnon, and at the stream of the brooks that goeth down to the dwelling of Ar, and lieth upon the border of Moab.” From this it would appear that God wrought at “the brooks of Arnon, and at the stream of the brooks that goeth down to the dwelling of Ar,” miracles similar to that which was wrought at the Red Sea, when it was divided to open up a passage for the chosen tribes.
“Comme le principal instrument d’icelle, et par maniere de dire, le chariot auquel elle est apportee, quand elle se vient monstrer aux hommes.” — Fr.
The original word implies “to settle, to place steadily in a certain situation or place.” See Parkhurst’s Lexicon on יצב
“Entant que leur cupidite et ambition insatiable ne pent estre retenue par quelque separation qu’il y ait, mais tasche tousjours d’enjamber par dessus.” — Fr.
As none of the ancient versions have “turtle dove,” and as the reading of the LXX. is, ἐξομολογουμένην σοι, confessing thee, it has been thought by some in a high degree probable that the word תורך, torecha, thy turtle dove in our present Hebrew copies, should be תודך, todecha, confessing thee; an error which transcribers might easily have committed, by writing ר, resh, instead of ד, daleth Houbigant, who approves of this opinion, boldly pronounces the other, which represents the people of God under the figure of a turtle dove, to be “putidum et aliunde conquisitum.” But, says Archbishop Secker, “Turtle dove, which Houbigant calls putidum, should not be called so, considering that, יונתי, So 2:14, is the same thing.” The passage, as it now stands, agrees with other texts of Scripture which represent the people of God under the image of a bird, Nu 24:21; Jer. 22:23, Jer. 48:28. The turtle dove is a defenceless, solitary, timid, and mournful creature, equally destitute of skill and courage to defend itself from the rapacious birds of prey which thirst for its blood. And this gives a very apt and affecting representation of the state of the Church when this psalm was written. She was in a weak, helpless, and sorrowful condition, in danger of being speedily devoured by the inveterate and implacable enemies, who, like birds of prey, were besetting her on all sides, eagerly intent upon her destruction. “With the most plaintive earnestness she pleads her cause with the Almighty, through this and the following verses; continually growing more importunate in her petitions as the danger increases. While speaking, she seems in the last verse to hear the tumultuous clamours of the approaching enemy growing every minute louder as they advance; and we leave the ‘turtle dove’ without the Divine assistance, ready to sink under the talons of the rapacious eagle.” — Mant
“The Psalmist’s expression, thy turtle dove, may perhaps be farther illustrated from the custom, ancient and modern, of keeping doves as favourite birds, (see Theocritus, 5. 96; and Virgil, Eclog. 3, 5, 68, 69,) and from the care taken to secure them from such animals as are dangerous to them.” — Merrick’s Annotations.
“The caves, dens, woods, etc., of the land, are full of robbers, cut-throats, and murderers, who are continually destroying thy people; so that the holy seed seems as if it would be entirely cut off, and the covenant promise thus rendered void.” — Dr Adam Clarke. “For the dark places of the earth, i.e., the caverns of Judea, are full of the habitations of violence, i.e., of men who live by rapine. Some, however, by the dark places of the earth, understand the seat of the captivity of the Jews.” — Cresswell.