Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 11: Psalms, Part IV, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
As the majority of mankind expect to prosper by evil deeds, and as they generally endeavor to enrich themselves by plunder, fraud, and every species of injustice, the prophet enumerates the blessings of God which attend those who worship him in purity, in order that we may know that, in aiming at a life of piety and morality, we shall not lose our reward. 341
1. Praise ye Jehovah! Blessed is the man that feareth Jehovah; he will greatly delight in his commandments. 2. His seed shall be powerful in the earth: 342 the generation of the righteous shall be blessed. 3. Wealth and riches shall be in his house: and his righteousness endureth for ever.
1 Blessed is the man that feareth Jehovah Although the prophet begins with an exhortation, he has, as I have already pointed out, something farther in view, than simply the calling upon the faithful to praise God. To practice wickedness, and perpetrate injustice, is, in all quarters, accounted a great happiness; and, although integrity may be occasionally praised, nevertheless, there is scarcely one among a hundred who pursues it, because all imagine that they will be miserable unless, by one means or another, they seize as booty every thing which comes in their way. In opposition to this, the prophet tells us that more advantage is to be expected from God’s paternal regard, than from the inflicting of every species of injury, and the perpetrating of every kind of injustice in our power; and by setting before us the certain hope of reward, he calls us back to the practice of equity and beneficence. The following is the analysis which I give of the verse: Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, and delighteth himself in his commandments; and thus, by the second clause of the verse, the prophet specifies in what the fear of God consists. And that the addition of this explanatory clause is called for, is quite apparent from what we remarked towards the conclusion of the preceding psalm. For, while the law is boldly contemned by mankind, yet nothing is more common than to pretend that they fear God. Such impiety is well refuted by the prophet, when he acknowledges none as belonging to the worshippers of God, but he who endeavors to keep his law. The Hebrew verb חפף, chaphets, is rather emphatical, which is, as it were, to take his pleasure, and I have rendered to delight himself For the prophet makes a distinction between a willing and prompt endeavor to keep the law, and that which consists in mere servile and constrained obedience. We must, therefore, cheerfully embrace the law of God, and that, too, in such a manner, that the love of it, with all its sweetness, may overcome all the allurements of the flesh, otherwise, mere attention to it will be unavailing. Hence a man cannot be regarded as a genuine observer of the law, until he has attained to this — that the delight which he takes in the law of God renders obedience agreeable to him. I now resume the consideration of the passage at large. The prophet, in affirming that the worshippers of God are happy, guards us against the very dangerous deception which the ungodly practice upon themselves, in imagining that they can reap a sort of happiness, I know not what, from doing evil.
2 His seed shall be powerful For the purpose of confirming the statement which he advanced respecting the happiness of the man that fears Jehovah and takes delight in his commandments, the prophet enumerates the tokens of God’s loving-kindness, which he is wont to bestow upon his worshippers. And, in the first place, he says that God’s fatherly kindness is not confined to their own persons, it also extends to their posterity: agreeably to what is said in the law, “I am merciful to a thousand generations, towards them that love me and keep my commandments,” Ex 34:7. And in Ps. 103:8, 9, and other passages, we have formerly adverted to this doctrinal statement. As, however, not a few are disposed to pervert this doctrine, by applying it as the standard according to which God dispenses his temporal favors, it is therefore proper to bear in mind what I have said in Ps 37:25, that these are bestowed according to the manner, and in the measure, which God pleases. Sometimes it happens that a good man is childless; and barrenness itself is considered a curse of God. Again, many of God’s servants are oppressed with poverty and want, are borne down under the weight of sickness, and harassed and perplexed with various calamities. It is therefore necessary to keep this general principle in view, That God sometimes bestows his bounty more profusely, and, at other times, more sparingly, upon his children, according as he sees it to be most for their good; and, moreover, he sometimes conceals the tokens of his kindness, apparently as if he had no regard for his people at all. Still, amid this perplexity, it constantly appears that these words were not uttered in vain, the righteous and their offspring are blessed God very frequently blasts the vain hopes of the ungodly, whose sole object is to bear rule in the world, and to raise their children to places of wealth and honor. On the other hand, as the faithful are satisfied with bringing up their children in the fear of God, and contented to live sparingly, God, as it were with an outstretched hand, exalts them to honor. Add to this, that anciently, under the law, the truth of this doctrine was more evident; because it was requisite for a people inexperienced and feeble, to be trained gradually, by means of temporal benefits, to entertain a better hope. And in our times, but for our vices, God’s temporal kindness would shine more brightly upon us. For experience demonstrates that what is immediately subjoined does not uniformly hold true, wealth and riches shall be in the houses of the righteous It is no uncommon occurrence for the virtuous and holy to suffer hunger, and to be in want even of the most homely fare; and, for this reason, it would not be for their good were God to bestow more earthly benefits upon them. In afflicting circumstances, numbers of them would be incapable of behaving in a manner becoming their profession. In the meantime, we may observe, that the grace which the prophet commends appears principally in this, that the good and sincere are satisfied with their humble estate, whereas no portion, however large, even to the extent of the world itself, will content the ungodly worldling. The old adage holds true, That the covetous wants that which he has, as well as that which he has not; because he is master of nothing, and is the slave of his own wealth. In connection with this clause must also be taken that which follows, the righteousness of good men endureth for ever This, in fact, constitutes the true and proper difference between the godly and ungodly; because the latter may, for a time, hoard up immense wealth; yet, all that shall, according to the words of the prophet, “suddenly vanish away at the blast of the Almighty,” Hag 1:9. And we daily see that what has been acquired by violence and deceit, becomes the prey and property of others. But, to the faithful, their integrity is the best and surest preserver of God’s blessings.
4. Light ariseth 343 in darkness to the righteous: he is gracious, merciful, and just. 5. A good man 344 showeth pity, and lendeth: he manages his affairs uprightly. 6. Surely he shall not be moved for ever: the just shall be held in perpetual remembrance. 7. He shall not be afraid when he hears evil tidings: his heart is fixed, because he confides in Jehovah. 8. His heart is established, he shall not be afraid, until 345 he see his desire 346 upon his enemies.
4 Light ariseth The Hebrew verb זרח, zarach, may be taken intransitively, as I have inserted it in the text, or transitively, as in the marginal reading; in either way the signification is the same. Whichsoever of these translations you adopt, the words are susceptible of a twofold interpretation; either, that as the sun shines on one part of the earth, and all the other parts of it are enveloped in darkness, so God exempts the righteous from the common calamities of human life; or, as day succeeds night, so God, though he permit the hearts of his servants to be in heaviness for a season, will cause a time of calmness and clearness to return to them. If the latter exposition is adopted, then, by darkness, or by the cloudy, and rainy, or stormy season, the prophet means the afflictions to which God subjects his servants for the trial of their patience. The former interpretation appears to be more appropriate, That, when the whole world is overwhelmed with troubles, God’s grace shines upon the faithful, who feel comfortable and happy, because he is propitious towards them. It is thus that their condition is properly distinguished from that which forms the common lot of other men. For the ungodly, however they may exult in prosperity, are, nevertheless, blind in the midst of light, because they are strangers to God’s paternal kindness; and, in adversity, they are plunged into the darkness of death; and, consequently, they never enjoy a season of calm repose. On the contrary, the godly, upon whom the favor of God constantly shines, though liable to the ills incident to humanity, are never overwhelmed with darkness, and hence the propriety of what is here stated, light ariseth to them in darkness If we give to the Hebrew verb an active signification, then, in one respect, the construction of the words will be preferable. For I have no doubt that the prophet intends, as applicable to God, the epithets, gracious, merciful, and just Therefore, if we read it as a neuter verb, light ariseth, then the latter clause of the verse will be the reason for the statement made in the former clause. As to the exposition, that the righteous and humane do not diffuse darkness over the world, as the unrighteous and wicked do; that they do not extract smoke from light, but light from smoke; it must be viewed as nothing else than a perversion of the prophet’s language.
5 A good man This is the commonly received interpretation of the passage. I am disposed, however, to prefer another, That it shall be well with those who are gracious and communicative; because this is more in accordance with the purport of the prophet’s language. It is his intention to show how greatly the ungodly are deceived, when they aspire after happiness by nefarious and unlawful practices; seeing that the favor of God is the source and cause of all good things. Hence it becomes necessary to supply the relative who. He proceeds, therefore, to put us on our guard as to the deception which those practice upon themselves, who hasten to enrich themselves by sordid parsimony and oppressive extortion; inasmuch as the faithful, by their clemency and kindness, open up a channel, through which the favor of God flows to them: for the term טוב, tob, though in the masculine gender, signifying good, is often taken as if it were neuter, to denote that which is good. He puts lending as if it were the fruit of mercy; for the usurer also lends, but it is that, under the false pretense of assisting the distressed, he may plunder them. It is, then, the truly liberal, who, from compassion, and not with the design of ensnaring the poor, grant relief to them, that God makes prosperous. The term דבים, debarim, in the end of the verse, signifies words; but, along with David Kimchi, the most correct expositor among the Rabbins, I take it to mean affairs. Words is a very tame translation, 347 not to say, that, if this had been the prophet’s intention, he would have expressed himself in more simple terms. The translation which I have given is the proper one, that the righteous will manage their affairs with prudence and discernment; so that, in their domestic affairs, they will neither be too lavish nor sordidly parsimonious; but, in every thing, they will study to combine frugality with economy, without giving way to luxury. And, in all their mercantile transactions; they will always be guided by the principles of equity and morality.
6 Surely he shall not be moved. The Hebrew particle כי, ki, may here be taken in its natural or causal meaning, and thus be rendered for, especially if in the preceding verse we adopt the marginal reading, It shall be well with the man. For he refers in more explicit terms to that happiness of which he spake, that God sustains the compassionate and humane, so that amid all the vicissitudes of life they remain unmoved; that he makes their innocence appear, and protects them from unjust calumny. It is said they are never moved They are indeed liable to the incidents common to humanity, and even may often appear as if they were about to sink under the weight of their calamities; but their confidence remains unshaken, and by invincible patience they surmount all their adversities. With God as the defender of their righteousness, they yet do not escape from being assailed by the slanders of the ungodly, but it is enough for them that their name is blessed before God, the angels, and the whole assembly of the godly.
7. He shall not be afraid when he hears evil tidings This may appear to be a confirmation of the statement contained in the preceding verse, being as much as to say, That the righteous are exempted from the infamous name which the reprobate secure to themselves by their vicious conduct. I rather take the meaning to be, that the righteous, unlike unbelievers, who tremble at every even the slightest rumor, calmly and peacefully confide in God’s paternal care, amid all the evil tidings which may reach them. Whence is it that unbelievers are in constant agitation, but that they imagine they are the sport of fortune on the earth, while God remains at ease in heaven? No wonder, then, that the rustling of the falling leaf troubles and alarms them. From such uneasiness the faithful are freed, because they neither give heed to rumors, nor does the fear of them prevent them from constantly invoking God. The children of God may also manifest symptoms of fear at the prospect of impending danger; for were they altogether regardless of calamities, such indifference would be the result, not of confidence in God, but of insensibility. But should they not be able to lay aside all fear and anxiety, yet, acknowledging God as the guardian of their life, and pursuing the tenor of their way, they intrust themselves to his preserving care, and cheerfully resign themselves to his disposal. This is that magnanimity of the righteous, under the influence of which the prophet declares they can disregard those rumors of evil which strike others with alarm. Wisely, too, do they rely upon God for support; because, encompassed on all sides with deaths innumerable, we would sink into despair were we not borne up by the confidence that we are secure under God’s protection. Genuine stability, then, is that which the prophet here describes, and which consists in reposing with unshaken confidence in God. On the other hand, that presumptuous confidence with which the ungodly are intoxicated exposes them the more, to the indignation of God, inasmuch as they overlook the frailty of human life, and in their pride of heart madly set themselves in opposition to him. Therefore, when “they shall say, Peace and safety, then shall sudden destruction come upon them,” (1Th 5:3.) But a sense of calamities, while it alarms and disconcerts the faithful, does not make them faint-hearted, because it does not shake their faith, by which they are rendered bold and steadfast. In a word, they are not insensible to their trials, 348 but the confidence which they place in God enables them to rise above all the cares of the present life. Thus they preserve calmness and composedness of mind, and wait patiently till the fit season arrives for taking vengeance upon the reprobate.
9. He has distributed, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endureth for ever; his horn shall be exalted with honor. 10. The wicked shall see it, and be angry; he shall gnash with his teeth, and melt away: 349 The desire of the wicked shall perish.
9 He has distributed, he hath given to the poor Once more he affirms that the righteous never lose the fruit and the reward of their liberality. And first, by dispersing, the prophet intimates, that they did not give sparingly and grudgingly, as some do who imagine that they discharge their duty to the poor when they dole out a small pittance to them, but that they give liberally as necessity requires and their means allow; for it may happen that a liberal heart does not possess a large portion of the wealth of this world. All that the prophet means is, that they are never so parsimonious as not to be always ready to distribute according to their means. Next he adds, they give to the poor, meaning that they do not bestow their charity at random, but with prudence and discretion meet the wants of the necessitous. We are aware that unnecessary and superfluous expenditure for the sake of ostentation is frequently lauded by the world; and, consequently, a larger quantity of the good things of this life is squandered away in luxury and ambition than is dispensed in charity prudently bestowed. The prophet instructs us that the praise which belongs to liberality does not consist in distributing our goods without any regard to the objects upon whom they are conferred, and the purposes to which they are applied, but in relieving the wants of the really necessitous, and in the money being expended on things proper and lawful. This passage is quoted by Paul, (2Co 9:9) in which he informs us that it is an easy matter for God to bless us with plenty, so that we may exercise our bounty freely, deliberately, and impartially, and this accords best with the design of the prophet. The next clause, his righteousness endureth for ever, is susceptible of two interpretations. That immoderate ambition which impels the ungodly to squander away their goods merits not the name of virtue. It may, therefore, with propriety be said, that it is a uniform course of liberality which is here praised by the prophet, according to what he formerly observed, that the righteous manage their affairs with discretion. If any prefer to refer it to the fruit of righteousness, I have no objection. And, indeed, it appears to be a repetition of the same sentence which lately came under our notice. Then the prophet shows how God by his benefits preserves the glory of that righteousness which is due to their liberality, and does not disappoint them of their reward, in that he exalteth their horn more and more, that is, their power or their prosperous condition.
10. The wicked shall see it. 350 Here follows a contrast similar to that which we met with in Ps 2:5, which renders the grace of God towards the faithful the more illustrious. His meaning is, that though the wicked may cast off all regard to piety, and banish from their minds all thoughts of human affairs being under the superintending providence of God, they shall yet be made to feel, whether they will or no, that the righteous, in compliance with God’s command, do not vainly devote themselves to the cultivation of charity and mercy. Let them harden themselves as they choose, yet he declares that the honor, which God confers upon his children, shall be exhibited to them, the sight of which shall make them gnash with their teeth, and shall excite an envy that shall consume them by inches. 351 In conclusion, he adds, that the wicked shall be disappointed of their desires They are never content, but are continually thirsting after something, and their confidence is as presumptuous as their avarice is unbounded. And hence, in their foolish expectations, they do not hesitate at grasping at the whole world. But the prophet tells them that God will snatch from them what they imagined was already in their possession, so that they shall always depart destitute and famishing.
This psalm is also acrostic or alphabetical; and the subject of it being only an enlargement upon the last verse of the preceding, as Muis and others have observed, the same author, it is not improbable, composed both.
“In the earth, or rather, with Green, in the land: as it seems to mean the land of Israel, to which the promise of temporal blessings was limited.” — Dimock.
“Ou, il a fait reluire la lumiere.” — Fr. marg. “Or, he hath made light to arise or to shine.” There is here perhaps, as Horsley supposes, an allusion to what happened in Egypt, when the Israelites had light in all their dwellings, while the land was wrapt in darkness. “The first hemistich,” says Phillips, “is figurative. Trouble is represented by חשך, darkness; and health or prosperity by אור, light. A pious man shall be found to enjoy prosperity, even when troubles come upon the rest of the world; in such a period of general darkness there shall spring up a light to the upright; viz., Jehovah himself, who is gracious, and merciful, and just. The first two epithets of the second member are found, in Ps 111:4, applied to God.”
“Ou, bien sera a l’homme qui.” — Fr. marg. “Or, it shall be well with the man who.” With this corresponds the translation of Archbishop Secker, which is, “Happy is the man who,” etc. In proof that טוב signifies happy, he refers to Isa 3:10; Jer 44:17; La 4:9
“Until. This is not to be taken as if his freedom from fear would continue no longer, but is to be extended to all future times.” Walford.
“His desire is a supplement made in the French version, but not in the Latin; and, if it is admitted, we must be careful not to understand it as implying any thing like revenge. The good man has enemies of various kinds. Worldly and wicked men are often his enemies. But he does not desire their destruction; for this would be utterly inconsistent with the Christian spirit. According to Hammond, the supplement is unnecessary. His reading is, “He shall behold or look upon his oppressors or distressers;” which he explains thus, “He shall behold them securely, confidently look in their faces, as we say, as being now no longer under their power, being freed from their tyranny and pressures.” In Ps 54:7, we meet with a similar expression, which see explained, in reference to David’s circumstances at that time, in volume 2, page 324, note. It is used again in Ps 59:11, “God shall let me see or look on mine enemies;” in Ps 92:11, “Mine eye hath looked on mine enemies, and mine ear hath heard of them that rise up against me,” that is, hath seen and heard of their destruction; and in Ps 118:7, “I shall look upon my haters,” that is, having God for my helper, I shall without fear look upon them.
It is so translated in some of the ancient versions, and by several critics. In the Syriac it is, “will support his words in judgment;” i.e., will never utter any thing but what is strictly true. In like manner, Cocceius. In the Arabic, which is followed by Castalio, it is, “will moderate his words in judgment;” i.e., will speak as favourably of delinquents as he can consistently with truth, contrary to the practice of the wicked. — Ps 94:21.
“Neque ferrei sunt neque stipites.” — Lat. “Ils ne sont point de fer, ne semblables a des souches.” — Fr. “They are not of iron, nor do they resemble blocks.”
“ונמם, And shall melt away. Root מסס. It is said to denote the total destruction of any thing by the process of melting The verb is employed by way of figure, to express the annihilation of the wicked, in Ps 68:3.” — Phillips.
“The wicked shall see it; i.e., the exalted horn ” — Dimock
“Et par une envie qu’ils auront les fera mourir a petit feu.” — Fr.