Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 11: Psalms, Part IV, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
By this psalm every godly man is taught to give thanks to God for the mercies bestowed upon himself in particular, and then for the grace which God has vouchsafed to all his chosen ones in common, by making a covenant of salvation with them in his law, that he might make them partakers of his adoption. But the Psalmist chiefly magnifies the mercy by which God sustains and bears with his people; and that not on account of any merit or worth of theirs, for they only deserve to be visited with severe punishment, but because he compassionates their frailty. The psalm is at length concluded with a general ascription of praise to God.
A Psalm of David. 162
1. Bless Jehovah, O my soul! and all my inward parts, bless his holy name. 2. Bless Jehovah, O my soul! and forget not any of his benefits: 3. Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; 4. Who redeemeth thy life from the grave; who crowneth 163 thee with mercy and compassions; 5. Who satisfieth [or filleth] thy mouth with good: thy youth shall be renewed as the eagle’s. 164
1. Bless Jehovah, O my soul! The prophet, by stirring up himself to gratitude, gives by his own example a lesson to every man of the duty incumbent upon him. And doubtless our slothfulness in this matter has need of continual incitement. If even the prophet, who was inflamed with a more intense and fervent zeal than other men, was not free from this malady, of which his earnestness in stimulating himself is a plain confession, how much more necessary is it for us, who have abundant experience of our own torpor, to apply the same means for our quickening? The Holy Spirit, by his mouth, indirectly upbraids us on account of our not being more diligent in praising God, and at the same time points out the remedy, that every man may descend into himself and correct his own sluggishness. Not content with calling upon his soul (by which he unquestionably means the seat of the understanding and affections) to bless God, the prophet expressly adds his inward parts, addressing as it were his own mind and heart, and all the faculties of both. When he thus speaks to himself, it is as if, removed from the presence of men, he examined himself before God. The repetition renders his language still more emphatic, as if he thereby intended to reprove his own slothfulness.
2. And forget not any of his benefits Here, he instructs us that God is not deficient on his part in furnishing us with abundant matter for praising him. It is our own ingratitude which hinders us from engaging in this exercise. In the first place, he teaches us that the reason why God deals with such liberality towards us is, that we may be led to celebrate his praise; but at the same time he condemns our inconstancy, which hurries us away to any other object rather than to God. How is it that we are so listless and drowsy in the performance of this the chief exercise of true religion, if it is not because our shameful and wicked forgetfulness buries in our hearts the innumerable benefits of God, which are openly manifest to heaven and earth? Did we only retain the remembrance of them, the prophet assures us that we would be sufficiently inclined to perform our duty, since the sole prohibition which he lays upon us is, not to forget them.
3. Who forgiveth all thy iniquities He now enumerates the different kinds of the divine benefits, in considering which he has told us that we are too forgetful and slothful. It is not without cause that he begins with God’s pardoning mercy, for reconciliation with him is the fountain from which all other blessings flow. God’s goodness extends even to the ungodly; but they are, notwithstanding, so far from having the enjoyment of it, that they do not even taste it. The first then of all the blessings of which we have the true and substantial enjoyment, is that which consists in God’s freely pardoning and blotting out our sins, and receiving us into his favor. Yea, rather the forgiveness of sins, since it is accompanied with our restoration to the favor of God, also sanctifies whatever good things he bestows upon us, that they may contribute to our welfare. The second clause is; either a repetition of the same sentiment, or else it opens up a wider view of it; for the consequence of free forgiveness is, that God governs us by his Spirit, mortifies the lusts of our flesh, cleanses us from our corruptions, and restores us to the healthy condition of a godly and an upright life. These who understand the words, who healeth all thy diseases, as referring to the diseases of the body, and as implying that God, when he has forgiven our sins, also delivers us from bodily maladies, seem to put upon them a meaning too restricted. I have no doubt that the medicine spoken of has a respect to the blotting out of guilt; and, secondly, to the curing us of the corruptions inherent in our nature, which is effected by the Spirit of regeneration; and if any one will add as a third particular included, that God being once pacified towards us, also remits the punishment which we deserve, I will not object. Let us learn from this passage that, until the heavenly Physician succor us, we nourish within us, not only many diseases, but even many deaths.
4 Who redeemeth thy life from the grave The Psalmist expresses more plainly what our condition is previous to God’s curing our maladies — that we are dead and adjudged to the grave. The consideration that the mercy of God delivers us from death and destruction ought, therefore, to lead us to prize it the more highly. If the resurrection of the soul from the grave is the first step of spiritual life, what room for self-gloriation is left to man? The prophet next teaches us that the incomparable grace of God shines forth in the very commencement of our salvation, as well as in its whole progress; and the more to enhance the commendation of this grace, he adds the word compassions in the plural number. He asserts that we are surrounded with them; as if he had said, Before, behind, on all sides, above and beneath, the grace of God presents itself to us in immeasurable abundance; so that there is no place devoid of it. The same truth he afterwards amplifies in these words, thy mouth is satisfied, by which metaphor he alludes to the free indulgence of the palate, to which we surrender ourselves when we have a well-furnished table; for those who have scanty fare dare scarcely eat till they are half satisfied. 165 Not that he approves of gluttony in greedily devouring God’s benefits, as men give loose reins to intemperance whenever they have great abundance; but he borrowed this phraseology from the common custom of men, to teach us that whatever good things our hearts can wish flow to us from God’s bounty, even to perfect satisfaction. Those who take the Hebrew word עדי, adi, for ornament, 166 mar the passage by a mere conceit of their own; and I am surprised how so groundless an imagination should have come into their minds, unless it may be accounted for from the circumstance that it is usual for men of a prying or inquisitive turn of mind, when they would show their ingenuity, to bring forward mere puerilities. The Psalmist next adds, that God was constantly infusing into him new vigor, so that his strength continued unimpaired, even as the Prophet Isaiah, (Isa 65:20) in discoursing on the restoration of the Church, says that a man of a hundred years old shall be like a child. By this mode of expression, he intimates that God, along with a very abundant supply of all good things, communicates to him also inward rigor, that he may enjoy them; and thus his strength was as it were continually renewed. From the comparison of the eagle, the Jews have taken occasion to invent, for the purpose of explanation, a fabulous story. Although they know not even the first elements of any science, yet so presumptuous are they, that whatever may be the matter treated of, they never hesitate to attempt to explain it, and whenever they meet with any thing which they do not understand, there is no figment so foolish that they do not bring forward, as if it were an oracle of God. Thus, for expounding the present passage, they give out that eagles, every tenth year, ascend to the elemental fire, that their feathers may be burnt, 167 and that then they plunge themselves into the sea, and immediately new feathers grow upon them. But we may easily gather the simple meaning of the Prophet from the nature of the eagle, as described by philosophers, and which is well-known from observation. That bird continues fresh and vigorous, even to extreme old age, unenfeebled by years, and exempt from disease, until it finally dies of hunger. That it is long-lived is certain; but at last, its beak or bill grows so great that it cannot any longer take food, and, consequently, is forced to suck blood, or to nourish itself by drinking. Hence the ancient proverb in reference to old men who are addicted to drinking, The eagle’s old age; for necessity then constrains eagles to drink much. But as drink alone is insufficient to maintain life, they die rather through hunger, than fail by the natural decay of strength. 168 Now we perceive, without the help of any invented story, the genuine meaning of the Prophet to be, that as eagles always retain their rigor, and even in their old age are still youthful, so the godly are sustained by a secret influence derived from God, by which they continue in the possession of unimpaired strength. They are not always, it is true, full of bodily vigor while in this world, but rather painfully drag on their lives in continual weakness; still what is here said applies to them in a certain sense. This unquestionably is common to all in general, that they have been brought out of the grave, and have experienced God to be bountiful to them in innumerable ways. Were each of them duly to reflect how much he is indebted to God, he would say with good reason that his mouth is filled with good things; just as David, in Ps 40:5, and Ps 139:18, confesses that he was unable to reckon up the Divine benefits, because “they are more in number than the sands of the sea.” Did not our own perverseness blind our understandings, we would see that, even in famine, we are furnished with food in such a manner, as that God shows us the manifold riches of his goodness. With regard to the renovation of our strength, the meaning is, that since, when our outward man decays, we are renewed to a better life, we have no reason to be troubled at the giving way of our strength, especially when he sustains us by his Spirit under the weakness and languishing of our mortal frames.
6. Jehovah executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed. 7. He made known his ways to Moses, his doings to the children of Israel. 8. Jehovah is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in goodness.
6. Jehovah executeth righteousness David having recounted the Divine benefits bestowed upon himself, now passes from this personal consideration to take a wider view of the subject. There is, however, no doubt that when he declares God to be the succorer of the oppressed, he includes himself among the number, for he had enjoyed the Divine help under many persecutions; and, from his own experience, he describes the character in which God is accustomed to manifest himself towards all who are unrighteously afflicted. As the faithful, while in this world, are always living among wolves, by using the plural number, he celebrates a variety of deliverances, to teach us that it is God’s ordinary work to succor his servants whenever he sees them injuriously treated. Hence we are taught to exercise patience when we find that God takes it upon him to avenge our wrongs, and that he covers us with the shield of his justice, or defends us with the sword of his judgment, as often as we are assaulted wrongfully.
7 He hath made known his ways to Moses David now speaks in the name of the chosen people; and this he does very suitably, being led to it by the consideration of the benefits which God had bestowed upon himself. Convinced that it was only as a member of the Church that he had been enriched with so many blessings, he immediately carries back his contemplations to the common covenant made with the people of Israel. He, however, continues the same train of thought as in the preceding verse; for these ways, which he says had been shown to Moses, were nothing else than the deliverance wrought for the people until they entered the promised land. He selected this as an instance of God’s righteousness and judgment, surpassing all others, to prove that God always shows himself righteous in succoring those who are oppressed. But since this instance depended upon the Divine promise, he doubtless has an eye principally to it; his language implying that God’s righteousness was clearly demonstrated and seen in the history of the chosen people, whom he had adopted, and with whom he had entered into covenant. God is said to have made known his ways first to Moses, who was his servant and messenger, and afterwards to all the people. Moses is here represented as invested with the office to which he was Divinely appointed; for it was God’s will to be made known to the people by the hand and working of that distinguished man. The ways, then, and the doings of God, are his rising up with wonderful power to deliver the people, his leading them through the Red Sea, and his manifesting his presence with them by many signs and miracles. But as all this flowed from the free covenant, David exhorts himself and others to give thanks to God for having chosen them to be his peculiar people, and for enlightening their minds by the truths of his law. Man, without the knowledge of God, being the most miserable object that can be imagined, the discovery which God has been pleased to make to us in his Word, of his fatherly love, is an incomparable treasure of perfect happiness.
8. Jehovah is merciful and gracious David seems to allude to the exclamation of Moses, recorded in Ex 34:6, where the nature of God, revealed in a remarkable way, is more clearly described than in other places. When Moses was admitted to take a nearer view of the Divine glory than was usually obtained, he exclaimed upon beholding it, “O God! merciful and gracious, forgiving iniquity, slow to wrath, and abundant in goodness.” As, therefore, he has summarily comprehended in that passage all that is important for us to know concerning the Divine character, David happily applies these terms, by which God is there described, to his present purpose. His design is to ascribe entirely to the goodness of God the fact that the Israelites, who by their own wickedness forfeited from time to time their relation to him, as his adopted people, nevertheless continued in that relation. Farther, we must understand in general, that the true knowledge of God corresponds to what faith discovers in the written Word; for it is not his will that we should search into his secret essence, except in so far as he makes himself known to us, a point worthy of our special notice. We see that whenever God is mentioned, the minds of men are perversely carried away to cold speculations, and fix their attention on things which can profit them nothing; while, in the meantime, they neglect those manifestations of his perfections which meet our eyes, and which afford a vivid reflection of his character. To whatever subjects men apply their minds, there is none from which they will derive greater advantage than from continual meditation on his wisdom, goodness, righteousness, and mercy; and especially the knowledge of his goodness is fitted both to build up our faith, and to illustrate his praises. Accordingly, Paul, in Eph 3:18, declares that our height, length, breadth, and depth, consists in knowing the unspeakable riches of grace, which have been manifested to us in Christ. This also is the reason why David, copying from Moses, magnifies by a variety of terms the mercy of God. In the first place, as we have no worse fault than that devilish arrogance which robs God of his due praise, and which yet is so deeply rooted in us, that it cannot be easily eradicated; God rises up, and that he may bring to nought the heaven-daring presumption of the flesh, asserts in lofty terms his own mercy, by which alone we stand. Again, when we ought to rely upon the grace of God, our minds tremble or waver, and there is nothing in which we find greater difficulty than to acknowledge that He is merciful to us. David, to meet and overcome this doubting state of mind, after the example of Moses, employs these synonymous terms: first, that God is merciful; secondly, that he is gracious; thirdly, that he patiently and compassionately bears with the sins of men; and, lastly, that he is abundant in mercy and goodness.
9. He will not always chide: nor will he keep his anger for ever. 10. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11. For in proportion to the height of the heavens above the earth has been the greatness of his goodness 169 upon 170 them that fear him. 12. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
9 He will not always chide David, from the attributes ascribed to God in the preceding verse, draws the conclusion, that when God has been offended, he will not be irreconcilable, since, from his nature, he is always inclined to forgive. It was necessary to add this statement; for our sins would be continually shutting the gate against his goodness were there not some way of appeasing his anger. David tacitly intimates that God institutes an action against sinners to lay them low under a true sense of their guilt; and that yet he recedes from it whenever he sees them subdued and humbled. God speaks in a different manner in Ge 6:3, where he says, “My Spirit shall no longer strive with man,” because the wickedness of men being fully proved, it was then time to condemn them. But here David maintains that God will not always chide, because so easy is he to be reconciled, and so ready to pardon, that he does not rigidly exact from us what strict justice might demand. To the same purpose is the language in the second clause: nor will he keep anger for ever The expression, to keep anger for ever, corresponds with the French phrase, Je lui garde, Il me l’a garde, 171 which we use when the man, who cannot forgive the injuries he has received, cherishes secret revenge in his heart, and waits for an opportunity of retaliation. Now David denies that God, after the manner of men, keeps anger on account of the injuries done to him, since he condescends to be reconciled. It is, however, to be understood that this statement does not represent the state of the Divine mind towards all mankind without distinction: it sets forth a special privilege of the Church; for God is expressly called by Moses, (De 5:9) “a terrible avenger, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children.” But David, passing by unbelievers, upon whom rests the everlasting and unappeasable wrath of God, teaches us how tenderly he pardons his own children, even as God himself speaks in Isaiah, (Isa. 54:7, 8,) “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from them for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee.”
10. He hath not dealt with us after our sins The Psalmist here proves from experience, or from the effect, what he has stated concerning the Divine character; for it was entirely owing to the wonderful forbearance of God that the Israelites had hitherto continued to exist. Let each of us, as if he had said, examine his own life; let us inquire in how many ways we have provoked the wrath of God? or, rather, do we not continually provoke it? and yet he not only forbears to punish us, but bountifully maintains those whom he might justly destroy.
11. For in proportion to the height of the heavens above the earth The Psalmist here confirms by a comparison the truth that God does not punish the faithful as they have deserved, but, by his mercy, strives against their sins. The form of expression is equivalent to saying that God’s mercy towards us is infinite. With respect to the word גבר, gabar, it is of little consequence whether it is taken in a neuter signification, or in a transitive, as is noted on the margin; for in either way the immeasurableness of God’s mercy is compared to the vast extent of the world. As the mercy of God could not reach us, unless the obstacle of our guilt were taken away, it is immediately added, (verse 12th,) that God removes our sins as far from us as the east is distant from the west The amount is, that God’s mercy is poured out upon the faithful far and wide, according to the magnitude of the world; and that, in order to take away every impediment to its course, their sins are completely blotted out. The Psalmist confirms what I have just now stated, namely, that he does not treat in general of what God is towards the whole world, but of the character in which he manifests himself towards the faithful. Whence also it is evident that he does not here speak of that mercy by which God reconciles us to himself at the first, but of that with which he continually follows those whom he has embraced with his fatherly love. There is one kind of mercy by which he restores us from death to life, while as yet we are strangers to him, and another by which he sustains this restored life; for that blessing would forthwith be lost did he not confirm it in us by daily pardoning our sins. Whence also we gather how egregiously the Papists trifle in imagining that the free remission of sins is bestowed only once, and that afterwards righteousness is acquired or retained by the merit of good works, and that whatever guilt we contract is removed by satisfactions. Here David does not limit to a moment of time the mercy by which God reconciles us to himself in not imputing to us our sins, but extends it even to the close of life. Not less powerful is the argument which this passage furnishes us in refutation of those fanatics who bewitch both themselves and others with a vain opinion of their having attained to perfect righteousness, so that they no longer stand in need of pardon.
13. As a father is compassionate towards his children, so has Jehovah been compassionate 172 towards them that fear him. 14. For he knoweth of what we are made; he hath remembered that we are dust. 15. As for man, his days are like the grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. 16. As soon as the wind passeth over it, it is gone; 173 and its place shall know it no more.
13. As a father is compassionate towards his children, The Psalmist not only explains by a comparison what he has already stated, but he at the same time assigns the cause why God so graciously forgives us, which is, because he is a father It is then in consequence of God’s having freely and sovereignly adopted us as his children that he continually pardons our sins, and accordingly we are to draw from that fountain the hope of forgiveness. And as no man has been adopted on the ground of his own merit, it follows that sins are freely pardoned. God is compared to earthly fathers, not because he is in every respect like them, but because there is no earthly image by which his unparalleled love towards us can be better expressed. That God’s fatherly goodness may not be perverted as an encouragement to sin, David again repeats that God is thus favorable only to those who are his sincere worshippers. It is indeed a proof of no ordinary forbearance for God to “make his sun to rise on the evil and on the good,” (Mt 5:45;) but the subject here treated is the free imputation of the righteousness by which we are accounted the children of God. Now this righteousness is offered only to those who entirely devote themselves to so bountiful a Father, and reverently submit to his word. But as our attainments in godliness in this world, whatever they may be, come far short of perfection, there remains only one pillar on which our salvation can securely rest, and that is the goodness of God.
14. For he knoweth David here annihilates all the worth which men would arrogate to themselves, and asserts that it is the consideration of our misery, and that alone, which moves God to exercise patience towards us. This again we ought carefully to mark, not only for the purpose of subduing the pride of our flesh, but also that a sense of our unworthiness may not prevent us from trusting in God. The more wretched and despicable our condition is, the more inclined is God to show mercy, for the remembrance that we are clay and dust is enough to incite him to do us good.
To the same purpose is the comparison immediately following, (verse 15,) that all the excellency of man withers away like a fading flower at the first blast of the wind. Man is indeed improperly said to flourish. But as it might be alleged that he is, nevertheless, distinguished by some endowment or other, David grants that he flourishes like the grass, instead of saying, as he might justly have done, that he is a vapor or shadow, or a thing of nought. Although, as long as we live in this world, we are adorned with natural gifts, and, to say nothing of other things, “live, and move, and have our being in God,” (Ac 17:28;) yet as we have nothing except what is dependent on the will of another, and which may be taken from us every hour, our life is only a show or phantom that passes away. The subject here treated, is properly the brevity of life, to which God has a regard in so mercifully pardoning us, as it is said in another psalm: “He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again,” (Ps 78:39.) If it is asked why David, making no mention of the soul, which yet is the principal part of man, declares us to be dust and clay? I answer, that it is enough to induce God mercifully to sustain us, when he sees that nothing surpasses our life in frailty. And although the soul, after it has departed from the prison of the body, remains alive, yet its doing so does not arise from any inherent power of its own. Were God to withdraw his grace, the soul would be nothing more than a puff or blast, even as the body is dust; and thus there would doubtless be found in the whole man nothing but mere vanity.
17. But the goodness of Jehovah is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness upon the children’s children; 18. To those who keep his covenant, and remember his statutes to do them
17. But the goodness of Jehovah, etc The Psalmist leaves nothing to men to rely upon but the mercy of God; for it would be egregious folly to seek a ground of confidence in themselves. After having shown the utter emptiness of men, he adds the seasonable consolation, that, although they have no intrinsic excellence, which does not vanish into smoke, yet God is an inexhaustible fountain of life, to supply their wants. This contrast is to be particularly observed; for whom does he thus divest of all excellence? The faithful who are regenerated by the Spirit of God, and who worship him with true devotion, these are the persons whom he leaves nothing on which their hope may rest but the mere goodness of God. As the Divine goodness is everlasting, the weakness and frailty of the faithful does not prevent them from boasting of eternal salvation to the close of life, and even in death itself. David does not confine their hope within the limits of time — he views it as commensurate in duration with the grace on which it is founded. To goodness is subjoined righteousness, a word, as we have had occasion frequently to observe before, denoting the protection by which God defends and preserves his own people. He is then called righteous, not because he rewards every man according to his desert, but because he deals faithfully with his saints, in spreading the hand of his protection over them. The Prophet has properly placed this righteousness after goodness, as being the effect of goodness. He also asserts that it extends to the children and children’s children, according to these words in De 7:9, “God keepeth mercy to a thousand generations.” It is a singular proof of his love that he not only receives each of us individually into his favor, but also herein associates with us our offspring, as it were by hereditary right, that they may be partakers of the same adoption. How shall He cast us off, who, in receiving our children and children’s children into his protection, shows to us in their persons how precious our salvation is in his sight?
Farther, as nothing is more easy than for hypocrites to flatter themselves under a false pretext, that they are in favor with God, or for degenerate children groundlessly to apply to themselves the promises made to their fathers, it is again stated, by way of exception, in the 18th verse, that God is merciful only to those who, on their part, keep his covenant, which the unbelieving make of none effect by their wickedness. The keeping, or observing of the covenant, which is here put instead of the fear of God, mentioned in the preceding verse, is worthy of notice; for thus David intimates that none are the true worshippers of God but those who reverently obey his Word. Very far from this are the Papists, who, thinking themselves equal to the angels in holiness, nevertheless shake off the yoke of God, like wild beasts, by trampling under foot his Holy Word. David, therefore, rightly judges of men’s godliness, by their submitting themselves to the Word of God, and following the rule which he has prescribed to them. As the covenant begins with a solemn article containing the promise of grace, faith and prayer are required, above all things, to the proper keeping of it. Nor is the additional clause superfluous — who remember his statutes; for, although God is continually putting us in mind of them, yet we soon slide away to worldly cares — are confused by a multiplicity of avocations, and are lulled asleep by many allurements. Thus forgetfulness extinguishes the light of truth, unless the faithful stir up themselves from time to time. David tells us that this remembrance of God’s statutes has an invigorating effect when men employ themselves in doing them. Many are sufficiently forward to discourse upon them with their tongues whose feet are very slow, and whose hands are well nigh dead, in regard to active service.
19. Jehovah hath established his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all. 20. Bless Jehovah, ye his angels, who are mighty in strength, who do his commandment, in hearing 174 the voice of his word. 21. Bless Jehovah, all ye his hosts; ye his ministers, who do his pleasure. 22. Bless Jehovah, all ye his works in all places of his dominion: bless Jehovah, O my soul!
19. Jehovah hath established his throne in the heavens David having recounted the benefits by which God lays each of us in particular, and also the whole Church, under obligation to him, now extols in general his infinite glory. The amount is, that whenever God is mentioned, men should learn to ascend in their contemplations above the whole world, because his majesty transcends the heavens; and they should farther learn not to measure his power by that of man, since it has under its control all kingdoms and dominions. That none may think that earthly creatures only are here put in subjection to God, the Psalmist chiefly addresses the angels. In calling upon them to join in praising God, he teaches both himself and all the godly, that there is not a better nor a more desirable exercise than to praise God, since there is not a more excellent service in which even the angels are employed. The angels are doubtless too willing and prompt in the discharge of this duty, to stand in need of incitement from us. With what face then, it may be said, can we, whose slothfulness is so great, take it upon us to exhort them? But although these exalted beings run swiftly before us, and we with difficulty come lagging after them, yet David enjoins them to sing God’s praises for our sake, that by their example he may awaken us from our drowsiness. The object he has in view, as I have adverted to before, is to be noted, which is, by addressing his discourse to the angels to teach us, that the highest end which they propose to themselves is to advance the divine glory. Accordingly, while in one sentence he clothes them with strength, in the immediately following, he describes them as hanging on God’s word, waiting for his orders, — Ye who do his commandment However great the power, as if he had said, with which you are endued, you reckon nothing more honorable than to obey God. And it is not only said that they execute God’s commandments, but to express more distinctly the promptitude of their obedience, it is asserted, that they are always ready to perform whatever he commands them.
21 Bless Jehovah, all ye his hosts. By hosts is not to be understood the stars, as some explain it. The subject of the preceding verse is still continued. Nor is the repetition superfluous; for the word hosts teaches us that there are myriads of myriads who stand before the throne of God, ready to receive every intimation of his will. Again, they are called his ministers who do his pleasure, to intimate to us, that they are not there intent in idly beholding God’s glory, but that having been appointed as our ministers and guardians, they are always ready for their work. Instead of word, the term pleasure is here used, and both are employed with much propriety; for although the sun, the moon, and the stars, observe the laws which God has ordained for them, yet being without understanding, they cannot properly be said to obey his word and his voice. The term obey is indeed sometimes transferred to the mute and insensible parts of creation. 175 It is, however, only in a metaphorical sense that they can be said to hearken to God’s voice, when by a secret instinct of nature they fulfill his purposes. But this in the proper sense is true of angels, who actively obey him upon their understanding from his sacred mouth what he would have them to do. The word pleasure expresses more plainly a joyful and cheerful obedience, implying that the angels not only obey God’s commandments, but also willingly and with the greatest delight receive the intimations of his will, that they may perform what he would have them to do. Such is the import of the Hebrew noun, as has been stated elsewhere.
22 Bless Jehovah, all ye his works The Psalmist in conclusion addresses all creatures; for although they may be without speech and understanding, yet they ought in a manner to re-echo the praises of their Creator. This he does on our account, that we may learn that there is not a corner in heaven or on earth where God is not praised. We have less excuse, if, when all the works of God by praising their Maker reproach us for our sloth we do not at least follow their example. The express mention of all places of his dominion, seems to be intended to stir up the faithful to greater ardor in this exercise; for if even those countries where his voice is unheard ought not to be mute in his praise, how can we lawfully remain silent to whom he opens his mouth, anticipating us by his own sacred voice? In short, David shows that his design in recounting God’s benefits, and magnifying the extent of his empire, was to animate himself the more to the exercise of praising him.
The author of this beautiful and affecting psalm was David; but the time and occasion of its composition are uncertain. Some are of opinion that it is a song of gratitude for David’s recovery from some dangerous sickness. Others think it was written upon his receiving assurance that his great sin in the case of Bathsheba and Uriah was forgiven. “I am not prepared to say,” observes Walford, “that this judgment is certainly correct; but as it is a subject of no great moment, am willing to acquiesce in it. If it be correct, then we have two of the most instructive examples of enlightened and fervent piety, which are contained in the Holy Scriptures, occasioned by one failure in the conduct of a good man, who was habitually remarkable for his steadfast obedience to the laws of God. The one of these examples is in Psalm 51, in which the sacred writer records his deep and humble penitence: and the other, which is now before us, displays the feelings of sacred joy and thankfulness, in terms that are most delightful and consolatory. So admirably adapted are these two psalms to the varied sentiments and emotions of Christian feeling, that I can scarcely suppose any real believer of the gospel is to be found who has not, on multiplied occasions, made them the objects of his attentive meditation, so as to have, if not the express words, yet the sense of them, engraven on his heart and memory, in characters never to be effaced but by death.”
“Ou, envirrone.” — Fr. marg. “Or, surroundeth.”
Walford’s rendering of this verse is as follows: —
“Who satisfieth thy advancing age with good;
Thy youth is renewed as the eagle’s.”
In defense of reading “thy advancing age” instead of “thy mouth” as it is in our English translation, and as Calvin has it, he observes, “The version here adopted is that of the Chaldee, and is supported by the parallelism in the following clause.”
“A grand’ peine osent-ils manger a demi leur saoul.” — Fr.
“Abu Walid mentions two interpretations: 1. That of our English translators; 2. That which takes עדיך in the sense of ornament, ‘who multiplieth thy adorning with good,’ i e., ‘who abundantly adorneth thee with good.’ Aben Ezra approves the notion of ornament, but applies it to the soul, the ornament of the body, i e., ‘who satisfieth thy soul with good.’” — Hammond The Septuagint reads, ἔπιθυμίαν σου, “thy desire,” or “sensitive appetite,” the satisfying of which is the providing for the body all the good things it stands in need of, and thus it is equivalent to “satisfying,” or “filling the mouth,” the organ for conveying nourishment to the body. Kimchi understands the phrase as expressing David’s recovery from sickness. In sickness the soul abhorreth bread, and even dainty meat, Job 33:20. The physician, too, limits the diet of the patient, and prescribes things which are nauseous to the palate. This commentator, therefore, supposes that David here describes the blessing of health, by his mouth being filled with good things
“Afin que leurs plumes soyent bruslees.” — Fr.
What Calvin here asserts of the eagle has as little foundation in truth as the Jewish fiction which he justly discards. Augustine’s explanation of the renewal of the youth of the eagle is equally fabulous. He affirms that in its old age its beak grows out so long, and becomes so incurvated, as to hinder it from taking food, thus endangering its life, but that it removes the excrescence, by striking its beak against a stone, so that it is enabled to take its ordinary food, and becomes young again. “There are,” says Dr Adam Clarke, “as many legends of the eagle among the ancient writers as there are in the Kalendar of some saints, and all equally true. Even among modern divines, Bible-Dictionary men, and such like, the most ridiculous tales concerning this bird continue to be propagated; and no small portion of them have been crowded into comments on this very verse.” Of these “legends of the eagle,” the accounts given of it by the Jewish commentators, by Calvin himself, and by Augustine, are a specimen; for they are altogether unsupported from its natural history. The Psalmist, in speaking of the renewing of its youth, we conceive refers simply to the changing of its feathers. Like all other birds, the eagle has its annual moulting season, in which it casts its old feathers, and is furnished with a new stock. When its plumage is thus renewed, its appearance becomes more youthful and beautiful, while, at the same time, its rigour and liveliness are improved. In like manner, by the communications of Divine grace, the spiritual beauty, strength, and activity of the people of God are increased. Although any other bird would have served the Psalmist’s purpose, yet he may have preferred the eagle, not only because it is the king of birds, superior to others of the feathered tribe in size, strength, and vivacity, but because it retains its vigor to a protracted old age, and preserves its youthful appearance to the last by the frequent change of its plumage. The Prophet Isaiah uses the same allusion, to illustrate the perseverance of the saints in holiness,
“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles.”
The eagle seems to have borrowed its Hebrew name נשר, nesher, from the shedding of its plumage. Its root is the Chaldee verb נשר, nashar, decidit, defluxit, he fell, he shed “The name agrees with שור, to look at,” says Bythner, “because the eagle can look at the sun with a straight and steady gaze; also with ישר, to be straight, because it flies in a straight course.”
“Ou, il a magnifie sa bonte.” — Fr. marg. “Or, he hath magnified his goodness.”
“Hammond prefers reading above “Though על,” says he, “signifies on and towards, as well as above or over, and may be fitly so rendered, verses 13 and 17, where (as here) God’s mercy is said to be על, upon his children, and על, upon them that fear him; yet the comparison that is here made between the heaven and the earth, and the height or excellence of the one על, (not upon but) above the other, being answered, in the ἀντα πόδοσις, by the greatness or strength (so גבר signifies) of God’s mercy, על יראיו; that phrase must by analogy be rendered above, not upon, or towards them that fear him And then the meaning must needs be this, that whatsoever our fear or obedience to God be, his mercy towards us is as far above the size or proportion of that, as the heaven is above the earth, i e., there is no proportion between them; the one is as a point to that other vast circumference; nay, the difference far greater, as God’s mercy is infinite, like himself, and so infinitely exceeding the pitiful imperfect degree of our obedience. The other expression that follows verse 12, taken from the distance of the East from the West, is pitched upon, says Kimchi, because those two quarters of the world are of greatest extent, being all known and inhabited. From whence it is that geographers reckon that way their longitudes, as from North to South their latitudes.”
“I am watching him, as he has watched to do a bad turn to me.”
In the French the verb is in the present tense, “So Jehovah is compassionate.”
It has been supposed that there is here a reference to that pestilential destructive wind of the East, called the Simoon, which, from its extreme heat, destroys at once every green thing. Disease and death overtake man, and reduce him to his original dust, as surely and speedily as this scorching wind blasts the tender flower.
In the French version it is “en obeissant,” “in obeying.” Hammond reads, “at hearing;” and observes,” The sense of לשמע in this place seems best expressed by the Arabic, as soon as they hear; for that is the character of the angels’ obedience, that as soon as they hear the voice of God’s word, as soon as his will is revealed to them, they promptly and presently obey it. The Chaldee renders it, ‘at his voice being heard;’ and the LXX. Τοῦ ἀκοῦσαι, ‘as they hear,’ or ‘as soon as they hear.’”
“Aux creatures muetes et insensibles.” — Fr.