Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 11: Psalms, Part IV, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
This psalm consists of three parts. It begins with a complaint; next follows an enumeration of various imprecations; and then comes a prayer with an expression of true gratitude. And although David here complains of the injuries which he sustained, yet, as he was a typical character, everything that is expressed in the psalm must properly be applied to Christ, the Head of the Church, and to all the faithful, inasmuch as they are his members; so that when unjustly treated and tormented by their enemies, they may apply to God for help, to whom vengeance belongs. 294
To the Chief Musician, a Psalm of David.
1. O God of my praise! be not silent; 2. Because the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of deceit are opened upon me: they have spoken against me with the tongue of guile. 3. And they have encompassed me with the words of hatred, and have contended with me without cause. 4. On account of my love they have been opposed to me; but I gave myself to prayer. 5. They rendered to me evil for good, and hatred for love.
1 O God of my praise! be not silent In these words, which may be considered as an introduction to the psalm, David declares that he neither could find nor would desire any other than God to stand forward in vindication of the integrity of his heart. For in denominating him the God of his praise, he intrusts to him the vindication of his innocence, in the face of the calumnies by which he was all but universally assailed. Some are of opinion that this clause is to be understood as referring to David’s having actually declared that he himself was the publisher of God’s praises; but the scope of the passage is opposed to such an interpretation; for we find David appealing to the judgment of God against the unjust and cruel hatred to which he was subjected in the world. There is in the words an implied contrast, because, when calumny is rampant, innocence is duly and properly estimated by none but God only. The meaning of the passage is this: Lord, although I may be regarded as the vilest of the vile, and exposed to the reproach of the world, yet thou wilt maintain the uprightness of my character, and on this account thou wilt also set forth my praise. 295 This interpretation corresponds well with that which is immediately subjoined, be not silent For when we are overwhelmed by the aspersions of the wicked, it would surely be improper on the part of God, who is the witness of our innocence, to remain silent. At the same time, what I formerly stated must not be forgotten, that while David mourns over the injuries which he in particular was suffering, yet, in his own person, he represented Christ, and the whole body of his Church. From this we are taught, when we are subjected to every species of indignity by men, to repose with perfect confidence under the protection of God alone. No man, however, can, with sincerity of heart, surrender himself entirely into the hand of God, except he has first formed the resolution of treating with contempt the reproaches of the world, and is also fully persuaded that he has God as the defender of his cause.
2 Because the mouth of the wicked David here very plainly declares, that he was the more solicitous to obtain help from God, in consequence of justice not being found among men. And though it is probable that he was rashly and furiously assailed, nevertheless, he complains that the mouth of deceit and fraud had been opened against him, and that he was surrounded with false tongues. Whence, to those who were ignorant of his real situation, there would appear to be some plausible pretext for his being loaded with reproaches, so much so indeed, that he would not be able to evade the charge of criminality.
3 And they have encompassed me He complains, that from all quarters he was assailed with the most hostile and abusive epithets, and that, too, most undeservedly. And, under a beautiful similitude, he shows that the tongues of his enemies were so full of deadly poison, that it was harder for him to endure their attacks than that of a great army, and the more so that he merited no such treatment at their hands. This species of warfare, to the exercise of which God very frequently summons his children, must be carefully considered by us. For though Satan may assault them with open violence, yet as he is the father of lies, he endeavors, by the amazing dexterity which he possesses in heaping calumny upon them, to tarnish their reputation, as if they were the most abandoned of mankind. Now, as that which was prefigured by David was fulfilled in Christ, so we must remember, that that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ is daily filling up in believers, Col 1:24; because, he having once suffered in himself, calls them to be sharers and associates with him in his sufferings.
4 On account of my love they have been opposed to me 296 The Psalmist had already solemnly declared, that his adversaries, unprovoked by any injury inflicted upon them by him, and without any just cause, became, through mere diabolical rage, his most implacable foes. Here he confirms the truth of that declaration by saying, that he had been their friend. For there is far more merit in showing kindness to an enemy than simply abstaining from doing that which is evil. And from this we may perceive, that the influence of Satan must be awfully powerful when he takes the hearts of men captive at his will. For nothing can be more unnatural than to hate and cruelly persecute those who love us. To love he also adds deeds of kindness, meaning, that it was his aim to secure their good will by outward acts of beneficence.
5 But I gave myself to prayer 297 Some are of opinion, that these words refer to David’s pouring out a prayer for his enemies at the very moment when they were furiously assaulting him, and with this opinion corresponds that which we have stated in Ps 35:13. But the more plain, and, to me, the preferable interpretation, is, that when he was attacked in a cruel and hostile manner, he did not betake himself to such unlawful means as the rendering of evil for evil, but committed himself into the hand of God, fully satisfied that he alone could guard him from all ill. And it is assuredly a great and desirable attainment for a man so to restrain his passions as directly and immediately to make his appeal to God’s tribunal, at the very time when he is abused without a cause, and when the very injuries which he sustains are calculated to excite him to avenge them. For there are some persons who, while it is their aim to live in terms of friendship with the good, coming in contact with ill men, imagine that they are at perfect liberty to return injury for injury; and to this temptation all the godly feel that they are liable. The Holy Spirit, however, restrains us, so that though oftimes provoked by the cruelty of our enemies to seek revenge, we yet abandon all fraudulent and violent means, and betake ourselves by prayer to God alone. By this example, which David here sets before us, we are instructed that we must have recourse to the same means if we would wish to overcome our enemies through the power and protection of God. In Ps 69:13, we have a parallel passage: “They that sit in the gate spake against me; and I was the song of those who drink strong drink. But my prayer was made to thee, O Jehovah!” In that passage, as well as in the one under review, the mode of expression is elliptical. Besides, it is the design of David in these words to inform us, that although he was aware that the whole world was opposed to him, yet he could cast all his cares upon God, and this was enough to render his mind calm and composed. And as the Holy Spirit taught David and all the godly to offer up prayers like these, it must follow, that those who, in this respect, imitate them, will be promptly helped by God when he beholds them reproachfully and vilely persecuted.
6. Set 298 thou over him a wicked person; and let the adversary stand at his right hand. 7. When he is judged, let him depart guilty, and let his prayer be turned into sin. 299 8. Let his days be few: 300 and let another receive his office. 9. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow: 10. And 301 let his children wander without any settled habitation, and let them be beggars, and let them seek food out of their waste places. 302 11. Let the extortioner 303 seize 304 all that belongs to him, and let strangers spoil his labor.
6 Set thou over him a wicked person. 305 Hitherto he poured out his complaint against a vast number of persons; now he seems to direct it against a single individual. Probably he speaks of each of them individually. It is, however, equally probable that he refers in very marked terms to some one in particular among these wicked persons, the most notorious transgressor of any of them. Some conjecture, and not without reason, that Doeg is the person here aimed at, who, by his treason and revolt, sought to bring ruin, not only upon David, but also upon all the holy priests; and we know that this psalm is applied by Peter to Judas, (Ac 1:20) But with equal propriety, and certainly not less forcibly, may this complaint be considered as applicable to some most intimate and particular friend of the Psalmist. Respecting the imprecations contained in this psalm, it will be proper to keep in mind what I have said elsewhere, that when David forms such maledictions, or expresses his desires for them, he is not instigated by any immoderate carnal propensity, nor is he actuated by zeal without knowledge, nor is he influenced by any private personal considerations. These three matters must be carefully weighed, for in proportion to the amount of self-esteem which a man possesses, is he so enamoured with his own interests as to rush headlong upon revenge. Hence it comes to pass, that the more a person is devoted to selfishness, he will be the more immoderately addicted to the advancement of his own individual interests. This desire for the promotion of personal interest gives birth to another species of vice. For no one wishes to be avenged upon his enemies because that such a thing would be right and equitable, but because it is the means of gratifying his own spiteful propensity. Some, indeed, make a pretext of righteousness and equity in the matter, but the spirit of malignity, by which they are inflamed, effaces every trace of justice, and blinds their minds.
When these two vices, selfishness and carnality, are corrected, there is still another thing demanding correction, the repressing the ardor of foolish zeal, in order that we may follow the Spirit of God as our guide. Should any one, under the influence of perverse zeal, produce David as an example of it, that would not be an example in point; for to such a person may be very aptly applied the answer which Christ returned to his disciples, “Ye know not what spirit ye are of,” Lu 9:55. How detestable a piece of sacrilege is it on the part of the monks, and especially the Franciscan friars, to pervert this psalm by employing it to countenance the most nefarious purposes! If a man harbour malice against a neighbor, it is quite a common thing for him to engage one of these wicked wretches to curse him, which he would do by daily repeating this psalm. I know a lady in France who hired a parcel of these friars to curse her own and only son in these words.
But I return to David, who, free from all inordinate passion, breathed forth his prayers under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Then, as to the ungodly, who live as the contemners of God, and who are constantly plotting the overthrow of the unsuspecting and the good, casting off all restraint, so that neither modesty nor honesty proves a check to them, surely they are deserving of the punishment of having a wicked person set over them And since, by means of intrigue and perfidy, they are constantly aiming at the extermination of the good, they are most justly punished by God, who raises up against them an adversary that should never depart from their side. Only let believers be on their guard, lest they should betray too much haste in their prayers, and let them rather leave room for the grace of God to manifest itself in their behalf; because it may turn out that the man, who to-day bears towards us a deadly enmity, may by to-morrow through that grace become our friend.
7 When he is judged, let him depart guilty Another imprecation is, that, being summoned to judgment, he might be punished without mercy, and that, though he humbly crave forgiveness, the judge should remain inexorable. This might with propriety be understood to relate not merely to his being judged at the bar of men, but also at the tribunal of God. But as it accords very well with the decisions awarded by an earthly judge, and as this is the commonly received interpretation, I have no wish to depart from it. There are two things which must be noticed here; that the wickedness of the wicked may be so palpable as to leave no room to escape from the execution of justice, and that all their entreaties for pardon may be disregarded. Accordingly, the Psalmist represents him as a condemned criminal leaving the presence of the judge, bearing the ignominy of the condemnation which he righteously merited, having his nefarious deeds disclosed and detected. With respect to the other interpretation which places the ungodly before God’s judgment-seat, it by no means appears absurd to say that their prayers should be turned against them to sin, the more especially as we know that all their sacrifices are an abomination unto him. And by how much they themselves are filthy, by so much do all their plausible virtues become offensive and displeasing to God. But as the scope of the passage is in favor of that interpretation which applies it to earthly judges, I do not consider it necessary to insist farther upon this point.
8 Let his days be few Although this world is the scene of much toil and trouble, yet we know that these are pledges and proofs of God’s loving-kindness, inasmuch as he frequently, and as a token of his love, promises to prolong the lives of men; not that it is absolutely necessary for us to remain long here, but that we may have an opportunity of sharing of God’s fatherly love which he bears towards us, by which we may be led to cherish the hope of immortality. Now, in opposition to this, the brevity of human life is here introduced as a mark of God’s disapprobation; for when he cuts off the wicked after a violent manner, he thus testifies that they did not deserve to breathe the breath of life. And the same sentiment is inculcated when, denuding them of their honor and dignity, he hurls them from the place of power and authority. The same thing may also happen to the children of God, for temporal evils are common to the good and to the bad; at the same time, these are never so mingled and blended together, but that one may perceive occasionally the judgments of God in a very manifest and marked manner. Peter, quoting this verse, Ac 1:20, says it behoved to be fulfilled in Judas, because it is written here, “let another take his bishopric.” And this, he does on the assumed principle of interpretation that David here spoke in the person of Christ. To this it cannot be objected, that the Hebrew term פקודה, pekudah, signifies generally superintendence, 306 because Peter very properly applies it to the apostleship of Judas. In expounding this passage, sometimes in reference to a wife, or to the soul, (which is a precious jewel in man,) or to wealth and property, there is good reason to believe that, in doing so, the Jewish interpreters are actuated by pure malice. What purpose can it serve to pervert the sense of a word, the meaning of which is so pointed and plain, unless that, under the influence of a malignant spirit, they endeavor so to obscure the passage, as to make it appear not to be properly quoted by Peter? From these words we learn, that there is no cause why the ungodly should be proud while their reputation is high in this world, seeing they cannot after all escape from that doom which the Holy Spirit here declares awaits them. Here too we are furnished with very valuable matter of comfort and patience, when we hear that, however elevated may be their rank and reputation now, their downfall is approaching, and that they will soon be stript of all their pomp and power. In the two succeeding verses the malediction is extended both to the wife and children; and the desire, that she may be left a widow and they become fatherless, depends upon the brevity of that life to which the prophet formerly adverted. Mention is likewise made of beggary, and the want of all the necessaries of life, which is a proof of the magnitude of their guilt; for assuredly the Holy Spirit would not denounce against them a punishment so grievous and heavy for a trivial offense. In delivering up his property 307 as booty to the extortioners, David must be understood as alluding to the poverty which was to overtake his children; for he is not speaking of a poor and mean person who at his death can leave nothing to his family, but of one who, regardless of right or wrong, has amassed wealth to enrich his children, but from whom God takes away the goods which he had unrighteously taken from others.
12. Let there be none prolonging mercy to him: and let there be none to pity his fatherless children. 13. Let his posterity be cut off; in the next generation let their name be effaced. 14. Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before Jehovah; and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out. 15. Let them be before Jehovah continually, and let him cut off their memorial from the earth. 308 16. Because he forgot to show mercy, but persecuted the afflicted and poor man, and the sorrowful in heart, that he might slay him.
12 Let there be none prolonging mercy to him. To continue to show humanity and mercy is, according to the Hebrew idiom, equivalent to constant and successive acts of kindness; and it also sometimes denotes pity, or the being moved to sympathy, when, through the lapse of years, anger is appeased, and even one’s calamity melts the heart of the man who bore hatred towards him. 309 Accordingly, there are some who understand this clause to mean, that there will be none to show kindness to his offspring; which interpretation is in conformity with the next clause of the verse. David, however, includes also the wicked man himself along with his children; as if he should say, Though he visibly pine away under such calamities, and these descend to his children, yet let no one show pity towards them. We are aware it not unfrequently happens, that the long-continued misfortune of an enemy either excites the sympathy of men of savage dispositions, or else makes them forget all their hatred and malevolence. But in this part of the psalm, David expresses a desire that his enemy and all his posterity may be so hated and detested, that the people may never be wearied with beholding the calamities which they endure, but may become so familiarised with the spectacle, as if their hearts were of iron. At the same time, let it be remarked, that David is not rashly excited by any personal anguish to speak in this manner, but that it is as God’s messenger he declares the punishment which was impending over the ungodly. And verily the law accounts it as one of the judgments of God, his hardening men’s hearts, so that they who have been passionately and unmercifully cruel, should find no sympathy, De 2:30. It is just that the same measure which they have used towards others, should also be meted out to themselves.
13. Let his posterity be cut off. This is a continuation of the same subject, upon the consideration of which the prophet had just now entered, that God would visit the iniquities of the fathers upon their children. And as he had to deal with the whole court of Saul, and not with any single individual, he here employs the plural number. But as in deeds of wickedness, there are always some who are the prime movers, and act as the ringleaders of others, we need not be surprised that having spoken of one person, he next addresses the many, and then returns to the same person. The more natural and simple mode of explanation is to refer it to his offspring, for the Hebrew term which signifies posterity is collective, implying a multitude, and not a single individual only. This is a heavier imprecation than the former. It sometimes happens, that a family, overthrown by an unexpected disaster, rises up again at a subsequent period; here, however, it is the wish of the prophet, that the wicked may be so completely ruined, as never to be able to regain their former state; for thus much is implied in their name being effaced in the next generation, or after the lapse of ages.
And as the destruction which he denounces against the houses and families of the wicked is so extensive, that God punishes them in the person of their posterity, so he desires that God may remember the iniquities of their fathers and mothers, in order that their condemnation may be complete; and this is a principle in perfect accordance with the commonly received doctrine of Scripture. God, out of regard to his covenant, which is in force to a thousand generations, extends and continues his mercy towards posterity; but he also punishes iniquity unto the third and fourth generation. In doing this he does not involve the guiltless with the wicked indiscriminately, but by withholding from the reprobate the grace and illumination of his Spirit, he prepares the vessels of wrath for destruction, even before they are born, Ro 9:21. To the common sense of mankind, the thought of such severity is horrifying: but then we must recollect, that if we attempt to measure the secret and inscrutable judgments of God by our finite minds, we do him wrong. Struck with horror at the severity of this threatening, let us improve it as the means of filling us with reverence and godly fear. In reference to the language of Ezekiel,
“The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, but the soul that sinneth, it shall die;” Eze 18:20
we know that in these words he disproves the groundless complaints of the people, who, boasting that they were guiltless, imagined that they were punished wrongfully. When, however, God continues his vengeance from the father to the children, he leaves them no room for palliation or complaint, because they are all equally guilty. We have already said, that vengeance commences when God in withdrawing his Spirit, both from the children and the fathers, delivers them over to Satan. Some may inquire how it comes to pass, that the prophet, in desiring that their sin may be continually before God’s eyes, does not likewise add, let their name be blotted out from heaven, but merely wishes them to be cut off, and to perish in the world? My reply is, that he spoke agreeably to the custom of the age in which he lived, when the nature of spiritual punishments was not so well understood as in our times, because the period had not yet arrived, when the revelation of God’s will was to be full and complete. Besides, it is the design of David, that the vengeance of God may be so manifest, that the whole world may acquiesce in his equity as a judge.
16. Because he forgot to show mercy The prophet comes now to show that he had good reason for desiring such awful and direful calamities to be inflicted upon his enemies, whose thirst for cruelty was insatiable, and who were transported with rage, no less cruel than obstinate, against the afflicted and poor man, persecuting him with as little scruple as if they were attacking a dead dog. Even philosophers look upon cruelty, directed against the helpless and miserable, as an act worthy only of a cowardly and grovelling nature; for it is between equals that envy is cherished. For this reason the prophet represents the malignity of his enemies as being bitter in persecuting him when he was in affliction and poverty. The expression, the sorrowful in heart, is still more emphatic. For there are persons who, notwithstanding of their afflictions, are puffed up with pride; and as this conduct is unreasonable and unnatural, these individuals incur the displeasure of the powerful. On the other hand, it would be a sign of desperate cruelty to treat with contempt the lowly and dejected in heart. Would not this be to fight with a shadow? This insatiable cruelty is still farther pointed out by the phrase, forgetting to show mercy; the meaning of which is, that the calamities, with which he beheld this guiltless and miserable man struggling, fail to excite his pity, so that, out of regard to the common lot of humanity, he should lay aside his savage disposition. In this passage, therefore, the contrast is equally balanced on the one side between such obstinate pride, and on the other, the strict and irrevocable judgment of God. And as David spoke only as he was moved by the Holy Spirit, this imprecation must be received as if God himself should thunder from his celestial throne. Thus, in the one case, by denouncing vengeance against the ungodly, he subdues and restrains our perverse inclinations, which might lead us to injure a fellow-creature; and on the other, by imparting comfort to us, he mitigates and moderates our sorrow, so that we patiently endure the ills which they inflict upon us. The wicked may for a time revel with impunity in the gratification of their lusts; but this threatening shows that it is no vain protection which God vouchsafes to the afflicted. But let the faithful conduct themselves meekly, that their humility and contrition of spirit may come up before God with acceptance. And as we cannot distinguish between the elect and the reprobate, it is our duty to pray for all who trouble us; to desire the salvation of all men; and even to be careful for the welfare of every individual. At the same time, if our hearts are pure and peaceful, this will not prevent us from freely appealing to God’s judgment, that he may cut off the finally impenitent. 310
17. As he loved cursing, so let it come upon him: 311 as he did not take delight in blessing, so let it be far from him. 18. And let him be clothed with cursing as with a garment, and let it come as water into his bowels, and as oil into his bones. 312 19. Let it be to him as a mantle to cover him, and a girdle to gird himself with continually. 20. Let this be the work from Jehovah of those who are hostile to me, and of those who speak evil against my soul.
17 As he loved cursing David still continues to enumerate the sins of his adversaries, and is thus severe in his treatment of them, in order to render it more apparent, that he is strictly conforming to the judgment of God. For as often as we draw near to the tribunal of God, we must take care that the equity of our cause may be so sure and evident as to secure for it and us a favorable reception from him. Fortified by the testimony of an approving conscience, David here declares his readiness to commit the matter between him and his enemies to the judgment of God. The words, which are expressive of cursing and blessing, are in the past tense, cursing came upon him, and blessing was far from him, but it is necessary to translate them as expressive of a wish or desire; for David continues to pray that his enemy may be visited with the same unparalleled ills which he had inflicted upon others. A stranger to every act of kindness, and taking pleasure in doing evil, it is the wish of the Psalmist that he may now be subjected to every species of calamity. Some take malediction to mean cursing and imprecation, thereby intimating that this man was so addicted to execration, that mischief and malevolence were constantly in his heart, and proceeding from his lips. While I do not reject this opinion, I am yet disposed to take a more extended view of the passage, That by injury and abuse, he aimed at the suppression and abolition of every mark of kindness, and that he took delight in the calamities which he beheld coming upon the unsuspecting and the good.
Not a few interpreters translate the next two verses in the past form, he clothed himself with cursing, etc., which would be tantamount to saying that the enemy was as fond of cursing as of costly apparel, or that he clothed himself with it as with a garment, and that, like an inveterate disease, it was deeply seated in the marrow of his bones. The other interpretation is more simple, That cursing should cleave to the wicked, that it should envelop him like a cloak, gird him about as his girdle, and should even penetrate to his bones. And that no one may rashly take for an example what David here spoke by the special influence of the Holy Spirit, let him keep in mind that the Psalmist is not pleading here in reference to any personal interest, and that it is no ordinary character to whom he refers. Belonging to the number of the faithful, he would not omit the law of charity, in desiring the salvation of all men. But in this instance God elevated his spirit above all earthly considerations, stript him of all malice, and delivered him from the influence of turbulent passion, so that he might, with holy calmness and spiritual wisdom, doom the reprobate and castaway to destruction. Others, would have the phrase, he loved cursing, to mean that he purposely drew down the vengeance of God upon himself, as it were procuring destruction for himself by his open hostility to him; but this is an unnatural construction of the passage. The interpretation which I have given is preferable, That he was so addicted to mischief and wrong, that no act of justice or kindness was to be expected from him. In the meantime, let it be observed, that all the machinations of the wicked will eventually recoil upon their own heads, and that when they are raging more violently against others, then it is that the mischief, which they so eagerly desire may come upon them, falls upon themselves, even as the wind called Cecias by blowing attracts the clouds unto him.
20 Let this be the work from Jehovah. That is, let the gain or reward of the work be from God. In pointing out the work as proceeding immediately from God, he intends to show that, though deprived of all human aid, he yet entertained the hope that God would grant him deliverance, and avenge the injuries of his servant. From this verse we learn that David did not rashly, or unadvisedly, utter curses against his enemies, but strictly adhered to what the Spirit dictated. I acknowledge, indeed, that not a few, while they pretend a similar confidence and hope, nevertheless, recklessly rush beyond the bounds of temperance and moderation. But that which David beheld by the unclouded eye of faith, he also uttered with a zeal becoming a sound mind; for having devoted himself to the cultivation of piety, and being protected by the hand of God, he was aware that the day was approaching when his enemies would meet with merited punishment. From which we also learn, that his trust was placed in God alone, and that he did not regard the persons of men so as to direct his course according as the world smiled or frowned upon him. And, assuredly, whosoever places his dependence on men, shall find that the most trifling incident will annoy him. Therefore, should the whole world abandon us, it becomes us, in imitation of this holy man, to lift up our heads to heaven, and thence look for our defender and deliverer. If it be his intention to employ human instrumentality for our deliverance, he will soon raise up those who will accomplish his purpose. Should he, for the trial of our faith, deprive us of all earthly assistance, instead of regarding that as any reflection upon the glory of his name, we ought to wait until the proper time arrive when he will fully display that decision in which we can calmly acquiesce.
21. And thou, O Jehovah my Lord! undertake for me, for thy name’s sake; deliver me, because thy mercy is good; 22. Because I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me. 23. I walk about as a shadow when it declineth. 313 I am tossed as the locust. 314 24. My knees are become feeble through fasting; and my flesh faileth of fatness. 25. But I became a reproach to them; when they see me they shake their head. 26. Help me, O Jehovah my God! save me according to thy mercy: 27. And they shall know that this is thy hand, and that thou, O Jehovah! hast done it.
21 And thou, O Jehovah my Lord! From the pouring out of complaints and imprecations against his enemies, the Psalmist passes to prayers; or rather, after having betaken himself to God as his guardian and deliverer, he appears to take occasion, from this circumstance, to encourage himself in prayer; even as all the pious reflections by which the faithful exercise and strengthen their faith, stimulate them to call upon the name of God. At the same time, he does not pique himself upon any service which he has rendered to God, as deserving of his help, nor does he rely upon his own worthiness, but he places all his confidence in the free grace and mercy of God. That integrity of which he was conscious, he placed in opposition to his enemies, for the purpose of making their iniquity more manifest; but he does not aspire after any recompense from God, because he adopts the nobler principle, that of owing every thing to God’s voluntary choice, upon which also he acknowledges his safety depends. Were it lawful for any one to boast of his virtues and merits, certainly David was not the man who was least entitled to do so; and, moreover, he was the representative of Christ, and of the whole Church. Hence it follows, that all our prayers will vanish in smoke, unless they are grounded upon the mercy of God. The case of Christ was indeed a peculiar one, inasmuch as it was by his own righteousness that he appeased the wrath of his Father towards us. As, however, his human nature was entirely dependant on the good pleasure of God, so it was his will, by his own example, to direct us to the same source. What can we do, seeing that the most upright among us is constrained to acknowledge that he is chargeable with the commission of much sin; surely we never can make God our debtor? It follows, therefore, that God, on account of the benignity of his nature, takes us under his protection; and that, because of the goodness of his mercy, he desires his grace may shine forth in us. In coming to God, we must always remember that we must possess the testimony of a good conscience, and must beware of harbouring the thought that we have any inherent righteousness which would render God our debtor, or that we deserve any recompense at his hands. For if, in the preservation of this short and frail life, God manifests the glory of his name and of his goodness, how much more ought all confidence in good works to be laid aside, when the subject-matter referred to is life heavenly and eternal? If, in the prolonging of my life for a short time on earth, his name is thereby glorified, by manifesting of his own accord towards me his benignity and liberality; when, therefore, having delivered me from the tyranny of Satan, he adopts me into his family, washes away my impurity in the blood of Christ, regenerates me by his Holy Spirit, unites me to his Son, and conducts me to the life of heaven, — then, assuredly, the more bountifully he treats me, the less should I be disposed to arrogate to myself any portion of the praise. How different a part does David act, who, in order to procure favor for himself, publishes his own poverty and misery? And as outward affliction is of no avail, unless a man, at the same time, be humbled, and his proud and rebellious spirit be subdued, the Psalmist here repeats, that his heart was wounded within him. From which we may learn, that God will be a physician to none, except to such as in the spirit of genuine humility send up their sighs and groans to him, and do not become hardened under their afflictions.
23 I walk about as a shadow. These are two very appropriate similitudes: to the first of them I formerly adverted in Ps 102:12; namely, that the afflicted person, and he who is almost lifeless, is very fitly compared to the shadow of the evening. At sunrise, or when he is shining in noon-day brightness, the constant shifting of the shadow is not so perceptible; but, towards sunset, the shadow flits before us during every moment that passes. By the other similitude, the transitory nature of all sublunary things is pointed out. For as the locusts are constantly skipping from one place to another, so David complains of his life being ever rendered uneasy by incessant persecution, so that no space was allowed him for repose; and this is similar to what he says in Ps 11:1, that he was compelled to flee like a sparrow, for which the fowler lays snares in all directions. In short, he mourns over his forlorn situation, that he could find no place of safety, and that, even among men, he could get no habitation. And, as in this psalm, he presents us with a picture of the whole Church, we need not be surprised if God try us, and arouse us from our lethargy, by an innumerable variety of events. Accordingly, Paul, 1Co 4:11, speaking of himself and others, says, that they have no certain dwelling-place; a description which is more or less applicable to all the children of God.
24 My knees are become feeble. Though David had the necessaries of life, yet he emaciated himself by voluntary abstinence, to which, as well as to prayer, he gave himself, and therefore we may regard this verse as expressive of his sorrow and sadness. We may also understand it as expressive of his having no relish for meat or drink, knowing, as we do, that persons who are in sorrow and sadness have no appetite for food; even life itself is burdensome to them. Should any one prefer restricting the interpretation to David’s being in want of the necessaries of life, when he hid himself in the dens of wild beasts, to escape the fury of his enemies, and was then subjected to hunger and thirst, he may do so. It appears to me, however, that by this language he intends to point out the extreme anguish which he felt, because, with death staring him in the face, he loathed all food; and this is in accordance with the next clause, in which he says, my flesh faileth of fatness; because “a sorrowful spirit drieth up the bones,” (Pr 17:22) By the term, fatness, some understand delicacies; meaning that he was deprived of all that food which is pleasing to the palate. The more natural way is to consider it as denoting his becoming emaciated by reason of grief and fasting, inasmuch as the natural moisture was wasted. Another proof of his sad situation arises from this, that, according to what he states in Ps 22:7, he was held in scorn by all. It is, indeed, a sad and bitter thing which God’s children endure, when they are made to feel that the curse which he denounces against the transgressors of his law is directed against themselves; for the law says to the despisers of it,
“Thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and laughing-stock,” (De 28:37)
With this species of temptation David was assailed; and he declares that he was not only regarded as a condemned person, but also cruelly derided; God at the same time coming in for a share of it; for it is usual with the ungodly to conduct themselves with insolence and pride towards us when they see us oppressed under afflictions, and, at the same time, to rail at our faith and piety, because God renders us no help in our miseries.
26 Help me, O Jehovah! The prophet repeats his prayer, because the more we are assailed by the subtilty and deceit of Satan, the more necessary is it for us to strive more ardently, and display the greater boldness. We may, indeed, have the full assurance of God being propitious towards us, yet when he delays to manifest it, and when the ungodly slander us, it must be that various doubts which keep intruding themselves upon us arise in our minds. Hence, it is not without reason that David, in order that he might withstand such attacks, places himself under the protection of that God who, according to his mercy and goodness, helps his people in their time of need. He implores that deliverance may be extended to him, not by ordinary means, but by the peculiar and special display of God’s power, so that his enemies may stand abashed, and not dare to open their mouths; and we know that God sometimes secretly grants succor to his servants, while, at other times, he stretches out his hand in such a visible manner, that the ungodly, though they shut their eyes, are constrained to acknowledge that there is divine agency connected with their deliverance. For as his enemies had exalted themselves against God, so it was his desire, after they shall have been subdued, to exult over them in the name of God. In cherishing this desire, he has no wish to procure for himself the renown of being valiant in war, but that God’s power may be displayed, that no flesh may glory in his sight. The words may also be viewed as referring both to his deliverance from his enemies, and to his affliction; his desire being to attribute his deliverance mainly to the grace of God; because, in opposing the hand of God to fortune and to all human means of deliverance, it is plainly his intention that God should be recognised as the alone author of it. This deserves to be carefully considered by us, for however anxious we are to be delivered by the hand of God, yet there is scarcely one among a hundred who makes the manifestation of God’s glory his chief end; that glory for which we ought to have a greater regard than for our own safety, because it is far more excellent. Whosoever then is desirous that the ungodly may be constrained to acknowledge the power of God, ought the more carefully to take heed to the help of God which in his own case he experiences; for it would be most absurd to point out the hand of God to others, if our minds have not recognised it.
28. They shall curse, but thou shalt bless: when they arise, they shall be put to shame; but thy servant shall rejoice. 29. My adversaries shall be clothed with shame, and covered with their own confusion, as with a garment. 30. I will praise Jehovah greatly with my mouth; and I will extol him in the midst of the great, 315 31. Because he standeth at the right hand of the poor, to deliver his soul from condemnations. 316
28. They shall curse. Interpreters are divided in their opinions about the meaning of these words. One class would render them as expressive of a desire or wish: Let them curse, provided that thou bless: let them arise, and be clothed with confusion Another class, and with them I readily agree, adopt the future tense of the indicative mood, They shall curse, etc. Should any prefer to understand the passage as indicating, on the part of the Psalmist, his resolution to suffer and submit to the curses of his enemies, I do not oppose their interpretation. In my opinion, however, those who view the words as a prayer, misinterpret them; because David, having already presented his petitions to God, and being secure in his favor, seems now rather to boast that their cursing will do him no harm; for Thou, says he, wilt bless me. By this means, he proves how little and how lightly he regarded the menaces of his enemies, though they might assail him by the poison of the tongue, and the power of the sword. From the example of David, let us learn to form the resolution of engaging God on our side, who can baffle all the designs of our enemies, and inspire us with courage to set at defiance their malice, wickedness, audacity, power, and fury.
And then, indeed, it is that the loving-kindness of God appears, when it banishes from our minds the fears which we entertain of the threatenings of the world. Therefore, relying upon the grace of God, boldly setting at nought the machinations and attacks of his enemies, believing that they could not prevail against God’s blessing, David raises the shout of triumph even in the midst of the battle. This truth is still more impressively inculcated in the succeeding clause of the verse: Though they arise, yet shall they be put to shame. By these words it is obviously his design to intimate that the ungovernable violence of his enemies is not yet subdued, but that he can endure all their fury and foam so long as the hand of God is stretched forth to maintain and defend him; and thus he animates and fortifies himself against all the pride of the world, and, at the same time, by his example emboldens all the faithful, so that they do not feel dejected even when the perverseness of their enemies seems to get the advantage over them, and to menace them with instant destruction. Cherishing such a hope, he trusts that, for the future, he shall be delivered from all his sorrows. Whence let us learn to bear patiently and meekly our trials, until the fit season and the full time, which God hath appointed, arrive for turning our weeping into joy. In the following verse he proceeds in the same strain of exultation, because, though he beholds the ungodly assuming a lofty air, yet, looking beyond the present state of things with the eye of faith, he entertains no doubt that God will frustrate all their designs, and pour contempt upon all their schemes.
30. I will praise Jehovah greatly with my mouth These words clearly establish the truth of the observation I formerly made, that David does not pray God to curse his enemies, but, by the holy boldness of his faith, sets them at defiance; for he prepares to offer up a tribute of gratitude to God, as if he had already realised the object of his desire. The phrase, with my mouth, is not, as some erroneously suppose, superfluous, but is to be considered as a public acknowledgement, on his part, of his thanksgiving to God for the deliverance vouchsafed to him; as if he should say, I will, not only when alone and when no human eye beholds me, and in the inward recesses of my heart, meditate upon the great goodness which I have received from God, but also in the appointed sacrifice of praise will I declare publicly, before men, how much I am indebted to his grace. Agreeably to this meaning, he adds, in the assembly of great, or of many men; for the term רבים, rabbim, is susceptible of being rendered both ways. I prefer rendering it, great men, because it appears to me, that David refers to an assembly of men of notable and noble rank. He declares that he will acknowledge the goodness of God, not only in some obscure corner, but also in the great assembly of the people, and among governors and those of noble rank. In the celebration of God’s praises, there can be no question that these must issue from the heart ere they be uttered by the lips; at the same time, it would be an indication of great coldness, and of want of fervor, did not the tongue unite with the heart in this exercise. The reason why David makes mention of the tongue only is, that he takes it for granted that, unless there be a pouring out of the heart before God, those praises which reach no farther than the ear are vain and frivolous; and, therefore, from the very bottom of his soul, he pours forth his heart-felt gratitude in fervent strains of praise; and this he does, from the same motives which ought to influence all the faithful — the desire of mutual edification; for to act otherwise would be to rob God of the honor which belongs to him.
Moreover, he also subjoins the form in which he rendered thanks; namely, that God stood at the right hand of the poor By this language he intimates, that when God had apparently forsaken and abandoned him, and stood far from him, even then he was always near and ready to render him seasonable and needful help; and, assuredly, his poverty and affliction gave some reason for suspecting that he was forsaken of God, inasmuch as he then either withdrew or concealed his loving-kindness. Notwithstanding of this seeming departure, he acknowledges that, during his affliction and poverty, God never ceased to be present to render him assistance. In saying that he was saved from the judges of his life, he sets forth, in a still stronger light, the very trying situation in which he was placed; his having to deal with very formidable enemies, such as the king and the princes of the realm, who, proudly presuming upon their grandeur and greatness, and regarding his recovery hopeless, treated him as if he had been a dead dog. It is my firm conviction, that in this passage he complains both of the torturing cruelty of his enemies, and also that his character had been unjustly aspersed by calumny and reproach; for we know that he was borne down by the malignity and wickedness of those who, being invested with authority, boastingly, yet falsely, pretended that they wished to act as judges and as the executors of justice, which plausible pretexts they adopt as a cloak for their iniquity.
From the express application of a part of this awfully prophetic poem to Judas by the Apostle Peter, (Ac 1:20) we learn that the punishment and sufferings of that unhappy man form its subject. It has also been justly viewed as shadowing forth, not merely the fate of the wretched Iscariot, and his immediate associates, but the dreadful and justly-merited destiny of the Jewish polity and nation. “The first five verses of this psalm,” says Horsley, “clearly describe the treatment which our Lord met with from the Jews. The curses that follow as clearly describe the judgments which have fallen upon that miserable people. So that the whole is a prediction of his sufferings, and of their punishment, delivered in the form of complaint and imprecation.” Whatever, therefore, may be said as to the primary reference of the psalm to the lamentations and denunciations poured forth by David, in consequence of the perfidy and cruelty of some inveterate foe, Christ must be principally understood as the person who gives utterance to these lamentations and denunciations, occasioned by the injurious treatment he received from his betrayer and murderers. — See Appendix.
The Septuagint and Vulgate attach the same meaning to the Psalmist’s prayer. The reading of the former being, Ω Θεὸς τὴν αἴνεσίν μου μὴ παρασιωπήσης, and that of the latter, “Deus, laudem meam ne tacueris,” O God! be not silent of my praise. The phrase, as it stands in the Hebrew text, is, however, capable of a double signification; for it may refer either to God’s praising David, or to David’s praising God. In the one case, it will intimate that God was the object of his praise; in which sense it is said, De 10:21, “He is thy praise, and He is thy God,” and will mean, Be not silent to refuse, neglect not my praising of thee. In the other sense the prayer is, as our author states, Whilst others reproach me, be not silent of my praise, be thou my advocate, plead my causes, proclaim and justify my innocence.
“This expression,” says Hengstenberg, “finds its full truth in Christ. Christ’s love to man was daily manifested by his miraculous healing all the infirmities of the body, which was returned by man’s hatred of Him, as displayed in his general conduct.”
In the Hebrew, the sentence is very short and imperfect, “But I prayer;” I am a man of prayer; or, I betake myself to prayer. Thus “I peace” is put for “I am for peace.” — Ps 120:7.
“The spirit of prophecy is blended in a high degree with all the denunciations which follow, and which have relation to the impenitent Jews, and to the traitorous apostle.” — Morison.
“When his cause shall be examined, and when sentence shall be pronounced, let him, as the original signifies, go out guilty; in other words, let him be condemned; and when he pleads for a pardon, or for a mitigation of his sentence, let his petition, instead of receiving a favorable answer, be regarded as an aggravation of his crime.” — Morison. Horsley understands the last clause as referring to the Jewish worship, which, he affirms, is now become sin, as it contains a standing denial of our Lord. Fry admits that Horsley’s exposition of this line is ingenious. “But,” says he, “תפלה, [which Calvin renders prayer,] from its etymology, and from its usage, Job 16:17, may be understood to mean a judicial sentence, and the parallelism in this place strongly argues for such an interpretation. Let the decision on him be ‘Guilty.’” Accordingly, he reads, “On his trial let him come forth condemned, and let the decision be, For sin.”
“His days shall be few. Hengstenberg says this word means few times, as if he considered it a substantive rather than an adjective; but it is doubtless an adjective belonging to ימיו, (his days.) The expression denotes that the man here spoken of should not live to a full age, but should meet with a premature death, either violently by the hands of others or by his own, as was the case with Judas. An untimely death is often mentioned in the Old Testament as a punishment on men who are eminently guilty. ‘Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days,’ Ps 55:23. See also Pr 10:27. This passage is applicable not to Judas only, but also to the Jews in general, for after the crucifixion of our Lord, their days were few; they were soon dispossessed of their country, and became the outcasts of the earth.” — Phillips. Horsley also explains this of the days of the Jewish commonwealth, which were very few after our Lord’s ascension; and the subsequent clause, “let another receive his office,” he understands as denoting that “the Christian Church is become the depository of revelation, which was the particular charge of the Jewish race.”
“The 10th and 11th verses allude to the state of the Jews in their dispersion, having nowhere any settled home.” — Horsley.
Horsley reads this verse as follows: —
“Let his children be mere vagabonds, and beg;
Let them be driven out from the very ruins of their dwelling.”
“For ידרשו,” says he, “the LXX. had יגרשו; ‘let them be driven out.’ This reading Houbigant and Archbishop Secker approve. The image is, vagabonds seeking a miserable shelter among the ruins of decayed and demolished buildings, and not suffered to remain even in such places undisturbed.”
“Literally, ‘the lender’ or ‘creditor.’ But from the hard-heartedness of the Jews towards their debtors, of which we have instances in 2Ki 4:1; Ne 5:1-13; the word seems in latter times to have carried a bad sense; and so it is rendered in our translation, ‘the extortioner.’” — Mant.
“ינקש shall catch, or secure. It seems to denote, to catch by laying snares. See Ps 38:13. This sense suits very well this passage; for the usurer is accustomed to obtain the substance of men by all kinds of artifices.” — Phillips. Horsley renders, “draw his net over all that he hath.” How striking a representation of the treatment which the Jews, since the time of the last destruction of their city, and their dispersion by the Romans, have received from almost all nations among whom they have been scattered! For some time they have been permitted to live in Britain, Holland, and Germany, unmolested; but what a tale of misery does the tyrannical exactions of which they have been the prey for centuries constitute!
Dr Geddes translates the 6th verse thus: —
“May he be tried by a wicked judge;
And at his right had be placed the accuser.”
On which he has the following note: — “May he be tried by a wicked judge. He alludes to courts of judicature: and wishes that his enemy may have a severe, nay, wicked judge, — certainly one of the greatest curses that can befall one. — And at his right hand be placed the accuser. Instead of a friend or advocate to stand by him, let his only attendant be an accuser. What imagery this! But the height of the metaphor is in the next verse: —
‘When he is judged, may he be found guilty:
And may his deprecation only aggravate his crime.’”
With this corresponds the interpretation of Phillips. With Hammond, he understands to set over as denoting to set over as a judge or inspector. “This notion of setting over,” he observes, “corresponds with the next member; for there it says, and an enemy shall stand at his right hand, which shows that the wicked man was to be appointed to act as a judge. The man at his right hand denotes an accuser, agreeably to the custom which prevailed in a Jewish court of justice, of placing the accuser at the right hand of the accused, (see Zec 3:1;) and hence we understand in this verse רשע to be mentioned as acting in the capacity of a judge, and רטן in that of an accuser.” Cresswell gives a similar explanation of the passage. Green, who follows Dr Sykes in thinking that the imprecations from this verse to verse 17 were pronounced not by David upon his enemies, but by David’s enemies upon him, reads the verse thus: — “Set a wicked man over him, say they, to hear his cause, and let a false accuser stand at his right hand.”
“Paefecturam generaliter significat.” — Lat. “Signifie generallement Superintendence.” — Fr.
“Quand il donne les biens en proye aux exacteurs.” — Fr.
“Tarnovius says, the passage treats not concerning all memory, but only of an honorable one.” Phillips.
“Et mesmes la calamite de quelqu’un amollit le ceur de celuy qui luy portoit haine.” — Fr.
“Ut desperatos omnes male perdat.” — Lat. “Afin qu’il extermine tous ceux qui sont du tout desesperez.” — Fr.
“This curse alludes to the imprecation by which the Jews ventured to take upon themselves the guilt of our Lord’s death, when Pilate pronounced him innocent. The blessing, ‘on which they set not their heart,’ was that which they might have obtained from our Lord.” — Horsley.
The Hebrew word for garment in this verse signifies, according to Parkhurst, “a long robe, a garment commensurate with the body.” See his Lexicon מר, 3. Horsley renders it, “a garment fitted to him,” which he takes to be the precise sense of מרו. The phrase in the following verse he renders, “as the close garment which wraps him.” In the second clause there is probably an allusion to the water of jealousy. See Nu 5:18. More forcible language than that of this and the subsequent verse could not be employed to convey the strength and perfection of that curse which fell on the Jewish nation; and the condition of that people, ever since their dispersion by the Romans, affords abundant evidence that the terms here made use of, strong as they are, to predict this condition, are but barely adequate to afford us a just notion of its sad reality. “The curse that lighted on the Jewish nation,” observes Bishop Horne, in illustration of this and the next verse, “is resembled, for its universality and adhesion, to a ‘garment’ which covereth the whole man, and is ‘girded’ close about his loins; for its diffusive and penetrating nature to ‘water,’ which from the stomach passeth into the ‘bowels,’ and is dispersed through all the vessels of the frame; and to ‘oil,’ which imperceptibly insinuates itself into the very ‘bones.’ When that unhappy multitude, assembled before Pontius Pilate, pronounced the words, ‘His blood be on us and on our children,’ then did they put on the envenomed garment, which has stuck to and tormented the nation ever since; then did they eagerly swallow down that deadly draught, the effects whereof have been the infatuation and misery of 1700 years.”
Horsley translates, “I am just gone, like the shadow stretched to its utmost length.” The allusion is to the state of the shadows of terrestrial objects at sun-set, lengthening every instant, and growing faint as they lengthen, and in the instant that they shoot to an immeasurable length, disappearing. As a shadow, when it is extended by the sun’s setting, is approaching to evanescence, so, saith the speaker in this psalm, I am fast disappearing; that is, am approaching the end of mortal life.
The Hebrew word for locust is in the singular number; but the Septuagint reads in the plural, and a plurality may be intended. Locusts are accustomed to fly in great numbers, and the swarms of them are sometimes so numerous in Eastern countries, that they fly in the air like a succession of clouds, forming enormous compact bodies. But when the wind blows briskly, locusts being weak and feeble creatures, these swarms are often tossed, broken into separate masses, thrown one upon another, and driven over the sea, into which they fall when no longer able to sustain their flight. — See Exod. 10:13, 19. So powerless was the speaker in this psalm before his persecuting enemies. He was driven by them from place to place, without the power to offer any resistance. Hammond, who considers the psalm as having been composed by David when forced to flee from Jerusalem by the rebellion of his son Absalom, after referring to this explanation of the metaphor, observes: “Another possible way there is of understanding the resemblance. The locust is but a large sort of grasshopper, which hath no set abiding-place or rest, but leaps to and fro, roves about the field: so we have the ‘running to and fro of locusts,’ Isa 33:4. And this uncertain, unsettled condition of those creatures, may be proper also to express David’s condition in his flight, when he had not where to lay his head, but wandered from place to place uncertainly. But the former, that is founded in the bands of locusts, is fitter to express David and the company with him, his weak fugitive army, than that which is founded in the manner of the single locust or grasshopper.”
“En l’assemblee des grans.” — Fr. “In the assembly of the great.”
“C’est, de ceux qui ont juge et condamne son ame a la mort.” — Fr. marg. “That is, from those who have judged and condemned his soul to death.”