Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 10: Psalms, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
It affords matter of rejoicing and thanksgiving to the whole Church, to reflect that the world is governed exclusively according to the will of God, and that she herself is sustained by his grace and power alone. Encouraged by this consideration, she triumphs over the proud despisers of God, who, by their infatuated presumption, are driven headlong into all manner of excess.
To the chief musician. Destroy not. A Psalm of Asaph. A Song.
1. We will praise thee, O God! we will praise thee: and 245 thy name is near: they will declare [or recount 246 ] thy wondrous works. 2. When I shall have taken the congregation, 247 I will judge righteously. 248 3. The earth is dissolved, and all its inhabitants: I will establish 249 the pillars of it. 4. I said to the fools, Act not foolishly: and to the ungodly, Lift not up the horn. 5. Lift not up your horn on high; and speak not with a stiff neck. 6. For exaltations come neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the wilderness. 250 7. For God is judge: 251 he bringeth low, and he setteth up.
1. We will praise thee, O God! With respect to the inscription of this psalm, I have sufficiently spoken when explaining the 57th psalm. As to the author of it, this is a point, in the determination of which, I am not inclined to give myself much trouble. Whoever he was, whether David or some other prophet, he breaks forth at the very commencement into the language of joy and thanksgiving: We will praise thee, O God! we will praise thee. The repetition serves the more forcibly to express his strong affection and his ardent zeal in singing the praises of God. The verbs in the Hebrew are in the past tense; but the subject of the psalm requires that they should be translated into the future; which may be done in perfect consistency with the idiom of the Hebrew language. The inspired writer, however, may declare that God had been praised among his people for the benefits which he had bestowed in the times of old, the design being thereby to induce God to persevere in acting in the same manner, that thus continuing like himself, he might from time to time afford his people new matter for celebrating his praises. The change of the person in the concluding part of the verse has led some interpreters to supply the relative pronoun אשר, asher, who, as if the reading were, O Lord! we will praise thee; and thy name is near to those who declare thy wondrous works 252 But the prophet, I have no doubt, puts the verb they will declare, indefinitely, that is to say, without determining the person; 253 and he has used the copula and instead of the causal participle for, as is frequently done. His meaning, then, may be brought out very appropriately th We will praise thee, O God! for thy name is near; and, therefore, thy wondrous works shall be declared. He, no doubt, means that the same persons whom he said would celebrate the praise of God, would be the publishers of his wonderful works. And, certainly, God, in displaying his power, opens the mouths of his servants to recount his works. In short, the design is to intimate that there is just ground for praising God, who shows himself to be at hand to afford succor to his people. The name of God, as is well known, is taken for his power; and his presence, or nearness, is judged of by the assistance which he grants to his people in the time of their need.
2. When I shall have taken the congregation. The Hebrew verb יעד, yaäd, signifies to appoint a place or day, and the noun מועד, moed, derived from it, which is here used, signifies both holy assemblies, or a congregation of the faithful assembled together in the name of the Lord, and festival, or appointed solemn days. As it is certain that God is here introduced as speaking, either of these senses will agree with the scope of the passage. It may be viewed as denoting either that having gathered his people to himself, he will restore to due order matters which were in a state of distraction and confusion, or else that he will make choice of a fit time for exercising his judgment. In abandoning his people for a season to the will of their enemies, he seems to forsake them and to exercise no care about them; so that they are like a flock of sheep which is scattered, and wanders hither and thither without a shepherd. It being his object, then, to convey in these words a promise that he would remedy such a confused state of things, he very properly commences with the gathering together of his Church. If any choose rather to understand the word מועד, moed, as referring to time 254 God is to be understood as admonishing his people, that it is their bounden duty to exercise patience until he actually show that the proper time is come for correcting vices, since he only has the years and days in his own power, and knows best the fit juncture and moment for performing this work. The interpretation to which I most incline is, That, to determine the end and measure of calamities, and the best season of rising up for the deliverance of his people, — matters, the determination of which men would willingly claim for themselves, — is reserved by God in his own hands, and is entirely subject to his own will. At the same time, I am very well satisfied with the former interpretation, which refers the passage to the gathering together of the Church. Nor ought it to seem absurd or harsh that God is here introduced as returning an answer to the prayers of his people. This graphic representation, by which they are made to speak in the first verse, while he is introduced as speaking in the second, is much more forcible than if the prophet had simply said, that God would at length, and at the determined time, show himself to be the protector of his Church, and gather her together again when she should be scattered and rent in pieces. The amount, in short, is, that although God may not succor his own people immediately, yet he never forgets them, but only delays until the fit time arrive, the redress which he has in readiness for them. To judge righteously, is just to restore to a better state matters which are embroiled and disordered. Thus Paul says,
“Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels.” (2 Thess. 1:6, 7)
God, therefore, declares that it is his office to set in order and adjust those things which are in confusion, that, entertaining this expectation, we may be sustained and comforted by means of it in all our afflictions.
3. The earth is dissolved, and all its inhabitants. Many commentators are of opinion that these words are properly applicable to Christ, at whose coming it behoved the earth and its inhabitants to be shaken. He reigns, as we know, that he may destroy the old man, and he commences his spiritual kingdom with the destruction of the flesh; but he conducts his administration in such a manner as that afterwards there follows the restoration of the new man. Of the second part of the verse, I will establish the pillars of it, they make the same application, explaining it as if Christ had said, As soon as I come into the world, the earth with its inhabitants shall melt and be dissolved; but immediately after I will establish it upon firm and solid foundations; for my elect ones, renewed by my Spirit, shall no longer be like grass or withered flowers, but shall have conferred upon them new and unwonted stability. I do not, however, think that such a refined interpretation ever entered into the mind of the prophet, whose words I consider as simply meaning, that although the earth may be dissolved, God has the props or supports of it in his own hand. This verse is connected with the preceding; for it confirms the truth that God in due time will manifest himself to be an impartial and righteous judge; it being an easy matter for him, although the whole fabric of the world were fallen into ruins, to rebuild it from its decayed materials. At the same time, I have no doubt that there is a reference to the actual state of things in the natural world. The earth occupies the lowest place in the celestial sphere, and yet instead of having foundations on which it is supported, is it not rather suspended in the midst of the air? Besides, since so many waters penetrate and pass through its veins, would it not be dissolved were it not established by the secret power of God? While, however, the prophet alludes to the natural state of the earth, he, nevertheless, rises higher, teaching us, that were the world even in ruins, it is in the power of God to re-establish it.
4. I said to the fools, Act not foolishly. 255 After he has set the office of God full in his own view and in the view of the faithful, he now triumphs over all the ungodly, whom he impeaches of madness and blind rage, the effect of their despising God, which leads them to indulge to excess in pride and self-gloriation. This holy boasting to which he gives utterance depends upon the judgment, which in the name of God he denounced to be at hand; for when the people of God expect that he is coming to execute judgment, and are persuaded that he will not long delay his coming, they glory even in the midst of their oppressions. The madness of the wicked may boil over and swell with rage, and pour forth floods to overwhelm them; but it is enough for them to know that their life is protected by the power of God, who can with the most perfect ease humble all pride, and restrain the most daring and presumptuous attempts. The faithful here deride and despise whatever the wicked plot and conspire to execute, and bid them desist from their madness; and in calling upon them to do this, they intimate that they are making all this stir and commotion in vain, resembling madmen, who are drawn hither and thither by their own distempered imaginations. It is to be observed, that the Psalmist represents pride as the cause or mother of all rash and audacious enterprises. The reason why men rush with such recklessness upon unlawful projects most certainly is, that blinded by pride, they form an undue and exaggerated estimate of their own power. This being a malady which is not easily eradicated from the hearts of men, the admonition, Lift not up your horn on high 256 is repeated once and again. They are next enjoined not to speak with a fat or a stiff neck; by which is meant that they should not speak harshly and injuriously; 257 for it is usual with proud persons to erect the neck and raise the head when they pour forth their menaces. Others translate the words, Speak not stiffly with your neck; but the other translation is the more correct.
6. For exaltations come neither from the east nor from the west. 258 The prophet here furnishes an admirable remedy for correcting pride, when he teaches us that promotion or advancement proceeds not from the earth but from God alone. That which most frequently blinds the eyes of men is, their gazing about on the right hand and on the left, and their gathering together from all quarters riches and other resources, that, strengthened with these, they may be able to gratify their desires and lusts. The prophet, therefore, affirms, that in not rising above the world, they are laboring under a great mistake, since it is God alone who has the power to exalt and to abase. “This,” it may be said, “seems to be at variance with common experience, it being the fact, that the majority of men who attain to the highest degrees of honor, owe their elevation either to their own policy and underhand dealing, or to popular favor and partiality, or to other means of an earthly kind. What is brought forward as the reason of this assertion, God is judge, seems also to be unsatisfactory.” I answer, that although many attain to exalted stations either by unlawful arts, or by the aid of worldly instrumentality, yet that does not happen by chance; such persons being advanced to their elevated position by the secret purpose of God, that forthwith he may scatter them like refuse or chaff. The prophet does not simply attribute judgment to God. He also defines what kind of judgment it is, affirming it to consist in this, that, casting down one man and elevating another to dignity, he orders the affairs of the human race as seemeth good in his sight. I have stated that the consideration of this is the means by which haughty spirits are most effectually humbled; for the reason why worldly men have the daring to attempt whatever comes into their minds is, because they conceive of God as shut up in heaven, and think not that they are kept under restraint by his secret providence. In short, they would divest him of all sovereign power, that they might find a free and an unimpeded course for the gratification of their lusts. To teach us then, with all moderation and humility, to remain contented with our own condition, the Psalmist clearly defines in what the judgment of God, or the order which he observes in the government of the world, consists, telling us that it belongs to him alone to exalt or to abase those of mankind whom he pleases.
From this it follows that all those who, spreading the wings of their vanity, aspire after any kind of exaltation, without any regard to or dependence upon God, are chargeable with robbing him as much as in them lies of his prerogative and power. This is very apparent, not only from their frantic counsels, but also from the blasphemous boastings in which they indulge, saying, Who shall hinder me? What shall withstand me? as if, forsooth! it were not an easy matter for God, with his nod alone, suddenly to cast a thousand obstacles in their way, with which to render ineffectual all their efforts. As worldly men by their fool-hardihood and perverse devices are chargeable with endeavoring to despoil God of his royal dignity, so whenever we are dismayed at their threatenings, we are guilty of wickedly setting limits to the sovereignty and power of God. If, whenever we hear the wind blowing with any degree of violence, 259 we are as much frightened as if we were stricken with a thunderbolt from heaven, such extreme readiness to be thrown into a state of consternation manifestly shows that we do not as yet thoroughly understand the nature of that government which God exercises over the world. We would, no doubt, be ashamed to rob him of the title of judge; yea, there is almost no individual who would not shrink with horror at the thought of so great a blasphemy; and yet, when our natural understanding has extorted from us the confession that he is the judge and the supreme ruler of the world, we conceive of him as holding only a kind of inactive sovereignty, which I know not how to characterise, as if he did not govern mankind by his power and wisdom. But the man who believes it to be an established principle that God disposes of all men as seemeth good in his sight, and shapes to every man his condition in this world, will not stop at earthly means: he will look above and beyond these to God. The improvement which should be made of this doctrine is, that the godly should submit themselves wholly to God, and beware of being lifted up with vain confidence. When they see the impious waxing proud, let them not hesitate to despise their foolish and infatuated presumption. Again, although God has in his own hand sovereign power and authority, so that he can do whatever he pleases, yet he, is styled judge, to teach us that he governs the affairs of mankind with the most perfect equity. Whence it follows, that every man who abstains from inflicting injuries and committing deeds of mischief, may, when he is injured and treated unjustly, betake himself to the judgment-seat of God.
8. For in the hand of Jehovah there is a cup, and the wine is turbid, [or full of dregs: 260 ] it is full of mixture, and he shall pour forth of it: surely they shall wring out the dregs of it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drink of it. 9. But I will publish for ever, and will sing praise to the God of Jacob. 10. And I will break all the horns of the wicked: but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted.
8. For in the hand of Jehovah there is a cup. 261 The Psalmist here applies more directly to the use of the godly that judgment of which he has just now spoken. He affirms, that the object for which God reigns is, that no iniquity may remain unpunished; but that when wicked men have broken through all restraint and abandoned themselves to wickedness, he may drag them to deserved punishment. From this we again learn what estimate we ought to form of the providence of God — that we ought to regard it as exercising its control by an ever-present energy over every part of our life. It is therefore asserted that God has in his hand a cup with which to make the wicked drunk. The word חמר, chamar, signifies full of dregs, and also red. As red wine among the Jews was the strongest and sharpest, we may suppose that it is here referred to; and the similitude is very appropriate, which represents God as having in his hand wine of a highly intoxicating character, with which to make the ungodly drunk even to death. It is implied, that the swiftness of divine vengeance is incredible, resembling the rapidity and power with which strong wine penetrates to the brain, and either produces madness or kindles a fever. It is on this account said, that the wine in God’s cup is of a red color; as it is said in Pr 23:31,
“Look not upon the wine when it is red in the cup.”
Nor is it any objection to this that it is described a little after as full of mixture. These two things do not ill agree with each other; first, that the wicked are suddenly made drunk with the vengeance of God; and, secondly, that they drink it out even to the dregs, until they perish. Some give a different explanation of the term mixture, considering, but without any just ground, the allusion to be to the custom which prevails in warm climates of diluting wine with water. This expression, it is full of mixture, was rather added to give additional force to the statement of the prophet; his object being to compare the vehemence and fury of God’s wrath to spiced wine. 262 By these figures he intimates that it will be impossible for the ungodly to escape drinking the cup which God will put into their hands, and that they will be compelled to drain it to the last drop.
9. and 10. But I will publish for ever. This conclusion of the psalm evinces the joy which God’s people felt from having experienced that He was their deliverer in adversity; for it seems to be their own experience which they engage to publish, and on account of which they resolve to sing praise to God. Whence also they gather, that by the divine aid they will overcome all the power of the reprobate; and that being themselves possessed of righteousness and equity, they will be sufficiently armed for their own preservation and defense. The expression, the horns of the righteous shall be exalted, 263 implies, that the children of God, by a blameless and holy life, acquire greater strength, and more effectually protect themselves than if it were their endeavor to advance their own interests by every species of wickedness.
“C’est, car.” — Fr. marg. “That is, for.”
“Par ainsi on racontera.” — Fr. “Therefore they will recount.”
“Quand j’auray prins assignation.” — Fr. “When I shall have received the appointment.” “Ou, assemble la congregation.” — Fr. marg “Or, assembled the congregation.”
“C’est, je remettray les choses en leur estat.” — Fr. marg. “That is, I will restore things to order.”
“Mais j’affermiray.” — Fr. “But I will support or sustain.”
“C’est, du Midi.” — Fr. marg. “That is, from the South.”
“C’est, gouverne le monde.” — Fr. marg. “That is, governs the world.”
This is the reading adopted by Hammond; but instead of making it out by supplying the pronoun אשר, asher, as is done by some, he renders, ספרו, sipperu, as a participle plural in the sense of the dative case. “Thy name is near, ספרו, sipperu, to them that declare thy wondrous works.” He supports this view from the Chaldee, and from the translation of the learned Castellio.
“C’est a dire, sans determiner personne.” — Fr.
The reading adopted by the most eminent critics is, “When I shall have gotten an appointed or fit time or season, I will judge uprightly.” This is supported by all the ancient versions.
“Or, Be not mad.” The verb is תהולו, tahollu, from הלל, halal, he was mad, boasting — Bythner
Lift not up your horn on high, that is, bear not yourselves insolently, from a false notion of your power, (comp. Am 6:13.) It has been supposed that the metaphor is taken from the manner in which horned animals carry themselves when they are in an excited state. A practice among the Abyssinians, described by Mr Bruce, has been also adduced as throwing light upon this verse. He observes, that the governors of the provinces in Abyssinia wear a broad fillet round their heads, which is tied behind the head. In the middle of this fillet is a horn, or a conical piece of silver, gilded with gold; and shaped like our candle-extinguishers. This is called kirn or horn; and is only used in reviews or processions after victory. The way in which they throw back the head when wearing this ornament (lest it should fall forward) gives a stiffness to the position of the head; and this seems to explain the language of the Psalmist, when he mentions speaking with a stiff neck. Instead of with a stiff neck, Parkhurst translates with a retorted neck; observing, that “this is a well-known gesture of pride, contempt, or disdain.”
“Praefracte.” — Lat. “Rigoureusement et outrageusement.” — Fr.
“For promotion, etc. The meaning is, the fortunes of men are not governed by planetary influences, but by God’s overruling Providence. The Eastern nations of the world always were, and are at this day, much addicted to judicial astrology.” — Warner.
“Si tost que nous oyons le vent de quelque esmotion.” — Fr.
“Ou, rouge.” — Fr. marg. “Or, red.”
“Here there seems to be an allusion to the cup of malediction, as the Jews called that ‘mixed cup of wine’ and frankincense, which used to be given to condemned criminals before their execution, in order to take away their senses. So the Chaldee Targum paraphrases the passage; ‘Because a cup of malediction is in the hand of the Lord, and strong wine full of a mixture of bitterness, to take away the understanding of the wicked.’” — Parkhurst quoted by Mant.
Mixed wine, naturally suggests to us the idea of wine weaker than in its pure state. Accordingly, Green, instead of “full of mixture,” translates “unmixed,” by which he means wine unmixed with water. He perceived, what is evident at first sight, that wine of the strongest quality is intended, and having apparently no idea of any other mixture than that of water, which would weaken the wine, he took the liberty of rendering the words, מלא מסך, male mesech, by “unmixed.” The Greeks and Latins, in like manner by “mixed wine,” understood wine diluted and weakened with water. But the phrase among the Hebrews generally denotes wine made stronger, by the addition of higher and more powerful ingredients. In the East, wines are much mixed with drugs of a stimulating and intoxicating kind; so that commonly when drawn from the vessels in which they are preserved, they are strained for use. What remains is the thick sediment of the strong and stimulating ingredients with which they had been mixed. This the wicked are doomed to drink. “The introduction of this circumstance,” says Mant, “forms a fine climax, and carries the idea of God’s indignation to the highest point.” Some interpreters have explained the passage as meaning that God would pour out the pure and clear wine for his friends, while he would compel his enemies to drink the dregs. But the reference is entirely to his enemies, who were wholly to exhaust this cup of his fury. This, with the prophets, is a very common image of divine wrath. See volume 2, page 399, note.
“By the horns of the wicked is signified pride; by the horns of the righteous, on the other hand, is meant their power. Basil has remarked, that the horn is more exalted and more solid than any other part of the body to which it belongs; and that, at the same time, it supplies ornament to the head, and is also a weapon of defense. Hence it is put metaphorically both for strength and power, and also for pride.” — Cresswell. Here it is threatened that the power and honor of the wicked, which had been employed as the instruments of cruel wrong and oppression, would be destroyed, and their pride effectually humbled; while the righteous would be exalted to power and dignity.