Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 11: Psalms, Part IV, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
As this psalm treats of various matters, it is difficult to give an epitome of its contents. There are, however, two things which the prophet mainly aims at; the exhorting of the children of God to follow godliness and a holy life; and the prescribing of the rule, and pointing out the form of the true worship of God, so that the faithful may devote themselves wholly to the study of the Law. Along with these he frequently blends promises for the purpose of animating the worshippers of God to live more justly and piously; and, at the same time, he introduces complaints respecting the impious contempt of the Law, lest they should become tainted by bad examples. In short, he frequently passes from one topic to another, and prosecutes no one particular subject continuously; 395 and therefore it will be best to discuss each subject in its proper place.
א 1. Blessed are they who are upright, 396 in their way, walking in the law of Jehovah. א 2. Blessed are they who, keeping his testimonies, seek him with all their heart. א 3. Surely they do not work iniquity, who walk in his ways. א 4. Thou hast commanded that thy statutes should be observed carefully 397 א 5. I wish that my ways may be directed to the observing of thy statutes! א 6. Then I shall not be ashamed, when I have respect to all thy precepts. א 7. I will praise thee in the uprightness of my heart, when I shall have learned the judgments of thy righteousness. א 8. I will observe thy statutes: do not forsake me very far. 398
Some call this the octonary psalm, because that, through every successive eight verses, the initial words of each line begin with the same letter in alphabetical order. That this was done to aid the memory, may be gathered from each part containing a doctrine, which ought to form a theme of constant meditation among the children of God. For the purpose, therefore, of rendering it less irksome to the reader, the prophet has distinguished every successive eight verses by their beginning each with the corresponding letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and thus all excuses, on the score of ignorance, are removed, even from the callous and slothful. This help does not extend to those who read it in other languages; but the principle must not be overlooked, that the doctrine exhibited in this psalm should be carefully studied by all the children of God, and treasured up in their hearts, to render them the more conversant with it. Touching the author, I assert nothing, because it cannot be ascertained, even by probable conjecture, who he was; and expositors are agreed that no satisfactory conclusion can be arrived at in the matter. As David surpassed all others in point of poetical and devotional talent, I will not scruple occasionally to insert his name. 399
It may be proper to take notice of certain terms which frequently occur in the psalm. Of the term תורה, torah, I say nothing, which, having its derivation from a word which signifies to instruct, is yet uniformly taken for law. Some of the Rabbis affirm that חוקים, chukim, signifies statutes, or divinely appointed rites, the, reason of which is very obvious. They say that פקדים, phikudim, denotes those precepts which relate to natural justice. It is certain that משפטים, mishpatim, signifies commandments, because this is proved by the etymology of the word. As to עדות, edoth, the Hebrews understand it of the doctrine of the law, but with the certain indication, pointing out to us that it is comprehensive of the manner in which God enters into covenant with his people. The precepts of the law are denominated judgments and righteousness, to inform us that God enjoins nothing except what is right and just, and that mankind ought to seek for no other rule for the perfecting of holiness, but what consists in regulating their life by rendering obedience to the law. The meaning is almost synonymous when they are called the ways of the Lord, intimating that those who do not depart from the direction of the law, may safely conclude that they are in no danger of going astray. The ordinances of God, and the edicts offerings, have the term חוקים, chukim, applied to them indiscriminately, and,פקודים , phikudim, refers to different kinds of justice, as is manifest from many parts of Scripture which demonstrates that there is no foundation for the subtle distinction and difference formerly noticed. And in this psalm almost all these terms are synonym as the context will show. 400 To procure greater respect for the law, the prophet adorns it with a variety of titles, taking care constantly to enjoin upon us the same doctrine. I now proceed to the consideration of the contents of the psalm.
1 Blessed are they who are upright In these words the prophet sets forth the same paradox which we met with at the commencement of the Book of Psalms. All men naturally aspire after happiness, but instead of searching for it in the right path, they designedly prefer wandering up and down through endless by-paths, to their ruin and destruction. The Holy Spirit deservedly condemns this apathy and blindness. And but for man’s cupidity, which, with brutish impetuosity, hurries him in the opposite direction, the meaning of the words would appear quite plain to him. And the further a man wanders from God, the happier does he imagine himself to be; and hence all treat, as a fable, what the Holy Spirit declares about true piety and the service of God. This is a doctrine which scarcely one among a hundred receives.
The term way, is here put for the manner, or course and way of life: and hence he calls those upright in their way, whose sincere and uniform desire it is to practice righteousness, and to devote their life to this purpose. In the next clause of the verse, he specifics more clearly, that a godly and righteous life consists in walking in the law of God If a person follow his own humor and caprice, he is certain to go astray; and even should he enjoy the applause of the whole world, he will only weary himself with very vanity. But it may be asked, whether the prophet excludes from the hope of happiness all who do not worship God perfectly? Were this his meaning, it would follow that none except angels alone would be happy, seeing that the perfect observance of the law is to be found in no part, of the earth. The answer is easy: When uprightness is demanded of the children of God, they do not lose the gracious remission of their sins, in which their salvation alone consists. While, then, the servants of God are happy, they still need to take refuge in his mercy, because their uprightness is not complete. In this manner are they who faithfully observe the law of God said to be truly happy; and thus is fulfilled that which is declared in Ps 32:2, “Blessed are they to whom God imputeth not sins.” In the second verse, the same doctrine is confirmed more fully, by pronouncing blessed, not. such as are wise in their own conceit, or assume a sort of fantastical holiness, but those who dedicate themselves to the covenant of God, and yield obedience to the dictates of hits law. Farther, by these words, he tells us that God is by no means satisfied with mere external service, for he demands the sincere and honest affection of the heart. And assuredly, if God be the sole judge and disposer of our life:, the truth must occupy the principal place in our heart, because it is not sufficient to have our hands and feet only enlisted in his service.
3. Surely they do not work iniquity The statement, that they who follow God as their guide do not work iniquity, may seem to be a mere common-place, and universally admitted truth. The prophet has two reasons for making it; first, to teach us that our life must be entirely under the direction of God; and, secondly, that we may more diligently and carefully attend to his doctrine. It is acknowledged by every one, that those who render obedience to God are in no danger of going astray, and yet every one is found turning aside to his own ways. Does not such licentiousness or presumption palpably demonstrate that they have a greater regard for their own devices than for the unerring law of God? And after all, as often as a man happens to fall, is not the plea of inadvertence instantly alleged, as if none ever sinned knowingly and voluntarily; or as if the law of God, which is an antidote to all delinquencies, because it keeps all our vicious propensities in check, did not furnish us with sufficient wisdom to put us upon our guard? The prophet, therefore, very justly declares, that those who are instructed in the law of God, cannot set up the plea of ignorance when they fall into sin, seeing they are willfully blind. Were they to attend carefully to God’s voice, they would be well fortified against all the snares of Satan. To strike them with terror, he informs them in the fourth verse, that God demands a rigid observance of the law; from which it may be gathered, that he will not suffer the contemners of it to escape with impunity. Besides, by speaking to God in the second person, he places him before our eyes as a Judge.
5 I wish that my ways may be directed The original word כון, kun, is sometimes rendered to establish, and, accordingly, it may seem as if the prophet were soliciting for himself the virtue of perseverance. I am rather inclined to understand it as signifying to direct; for, although God’s plainly instructing us in his law, the obtuseness of our understanding, and the perversity of our hearts, constantly need the direction of his Spirit. Our main desire, therefore, ought to be for an understanding wisely regulated by the law of God, and also for a docile and obedient heart. Next, he adds, if a man carefully observe the law of God, he need be under no apprehension that he will ever regret what he has done or undertaken to do. The word respect intimates, that we must not be influenced by our own designs, nor decide, according to Carnal reason, what we are to do, but must at once come to the determination, that they who turn not aside, either to the right hand or the left, from the observance of God’s commandments, are indeed in the right path. They who reverently respect his law, may not escape the censure of the great bulk of mankind, yet the prophet declares, that They shall not be ashamed, because they have a good conscience in the presence of God and the angels, and, with the approval of this celestial assembly, they are well satisfied and contented; for if they depended upon the opinion of the world, their courage would presently fail. He says, all thy precepts, intimating, that among the snares of Satan, amid such thick darkness and so great insensibility as ours, the utmost vigilance and caution are necessary, if we would aim at being entirely exempted from blame. Wherefore, in all that we do, we must endeavor to have the law before us, to keep us from falling.
7. I will praise thee He affirms it to be a singular instance of the loving-kindness of God, if a person has made considerable proficiency in his law. As a token and testimony of this, he here puts the giving of thanks to God; as if he should say, Lord, thou wilt confer upon me an inestimable blessing, if thou instruct me in thy law. It follows, therefore, that nothing in this life is more to be desired than this; and my fervent prayer is, that we may be fairly and fully convinced of the truth of it. For while searching carefully after such things as we deem advantageous to us, we do not overlook any earthly convenience, and yet we neglect that which is of most importance. The phrase, the judgments of thy righteousness, is the same with the commandments, in which perfect righteousness is comprehended; and thus the prophet commends God’s law on account of the thorough perfection of the doctrine contained in it. From this verse we learn, that none will praise God unfeignedly and cordially but he who has made such proficiency in his school as to mold his life into subjection to him. It is vain to make a pretense of praising God with the mouth and the tongue if we dishonor him by our life. Hence the prophet very justly here makes the fruit of genuine piety to consist in celebrating the praises of God without hypocrisy.
8 I will observe thy statutes In these words he avers it to be his intention to observe the law of God, but, conscious of his own weakness, he utters a prayer that God would not deprive him of his grace. The term forsake is susceptible of two interpretations, either that God withdraws his Spirit, or that he permits his people to be brought low by adversity, as if he had forsaken them. The latter interpretation agrees best with the context, and is most in accordance with the phrase immediately subjoined, very far The prophet is not altogether averse to the trial of his faith, only he is apprehensive lest it might fail were the trial to be too long protracted, and therefore he desires to be treated with tenderness in his infirmity.,’ O God! thou sees my frame of mind, and, as I am but a man, do not conceal too long from me the tokens of thy favor, or defer helping me longer than is proper for me, lest, imagining myself to be forsaken of thee, I turn aside from the direct pursuit of godliness.”
ב 9. Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to thy word. ב 10. I have sought thee with my whole heart; do not permit me to wander from thy commandments. ב 11. I have hid thy word in my heart, 401 that I might not sin against thee. ב 12. Blessed art thou, O Jehovah! teach me thy statutes. ב 13. With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth. ב 14. I have taken pleasure in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches. ב 15. I will meditate upon thy precepts, and will take heed to thy paths. ב 16. I will delight, myself in thy statutes; I will not forget thy words.
9. Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way? In this place he repeats, in different words, the same truth which he formerly advanced, That, however much men may pique themselves upon their own works, there is nothing pure in their life until they have made a complete surrender of themselves to the word of the Lord. The more effectually to excite them to this, he produces, in an especial manner, the example of children or youths. In mentioning these, he by no means gives an unbridled license to those who have arrived at mature years, or who are aged, as if they were competent to regulate their own life, and as if their own prudence served as a law to them; but because youth puts men where two ways meet, and renders it imperative for them to select the course of life which they mean to follow, he declares that, when a person sets about the regulation of his life, no advice will prove of any advantage, unless he adopts the law of God as his rule and guide. In this way the prophet stimulates men to an early and seasonable regulation of their manners, and not to delay doing so any longer, agreeably to the words of Solomon, “Remember thy Creator in thy youth, ere the days of trouble come, and the years which shall be grief unto thee,” Ec 12:1 402 They who defer from time to time become hardened in their vicious practices, and arrive at mature years, when it is too late to attempt a reformation. There is another reason, arising from the fact, of the carnal propensities being very powerful in youth, requiring a dortble restraint; and the more they are inclined to excess, the greater is the necessity for curbing their licentiousness. The prophet, therefore, not without reason, exhorts them particularly to attend to the observance of the law. We may reason from the greater to the less; for if the law of God possesses the power of restraining the impetuosity of youth, so as to preserve pure and upright all who take it for their guide, then, assuredly, when they come to maturity, and their irregular desires are considerably abated, it will prove the best antidote for correcting their vices. The reason, therefore, of so much evil prevailing in the world, arises from men wallowing in their own impurity, and being disposed to yield more to their own inclination than to heavenly instruction. The only sure protection is, to regulate ourselves according to God’s word. Some, wise in their own conceit, throw themselves into the snares of Satan, others, from listlessness and languor, live a vile and wicked life.
10. With my whole heart Conscious of the integrity of his heart, the prophet still implores the help of God, that he might not stumble by reason of his infirmity. He makes no boast of self-preparation, as if he had spontaneously begun to inquire after God, but in praising the grace which he had experienced, he at the same time aspires after steadfastness to persevere in walking in his ways. It is folly on the part of the Papists to seize upon this and similar passages, as if the saints, of their own free will, anticipated the grace of the Holy Spirit, and afterwards were favored with his aid. The prophet does not make a division between God and himself, but rather prays God to continue his work till it is completed, agreeably with what we are generally taught, to keep God mindful of his benefits until he accomplish them.
In the meantime, there is good cause for presenting our supplication to God, to stretch out his hand towards us when he sees our minds so settled, that we are solicitous of nothing so much as acting uprightly. And as he elevates us with confidence to ask the gift of perseverance, when he inspires our hearts with proper affection towards him, so also does he entreat us for the future not to sink into a careless and languid state like soldiers who have been discharged, but seek to be constantly directed by the spirit of wisdom, and to be sustained by the principles of fortitude and virtue. David here, from his own example, points out to us a rule, that by how much a man finds himself succored by God, by so much ought he to be induced the more carefully and earnestly to implore the continuance of his aid; for unless he restrain us, we will instantly wander and go astray. This sentiment is more explicitly stated in the original word תשגני, tashqeni, which is in the passive voice, and signifies, to be led astray 403 From the import of the term, I do not mean to establish the doctrine that God secretly incites us to commit sin, but only to let my readers know, that such is our liability to err, that we immediately relapse into sin the instant he leaves us to ourselves. This passage also admonishes us that the man who swerves but a little from God’s commandments is guilty of going astray.
11. I have hid thy word in my heart. This psalm not being composed for the personal and peculiar use of the author only, we may therefore understand, that as frequently as David sets before us his own example, under this model he points out the course we ought to pursue. Here we are informed that we are well fortified against the stratagems of Satan when God’s law is deeply seated in our hearts. For unless it have a fast and firm hold there, we will readily fall into sin. Among scholars, those whose knowledge is confined to books, if they have not the book always before them, readily discover their ignorance; in like manner, if we do not imbibe the doctrine of God, and are well acquainted with it, Satan will easily surprise and entangle us in his meshes. Our true safeguard, then, lies not in a slender knowledge of his law, or in a careless perusal of it, but in hiding it deeply in our hearts. Here we are reminded, that however men may be convinced of their own wisdom, they are yet destitute of all right judgment, except as far as they have God as their teacher.
12. Blessed art thou, O Jehovah! Such had been the prophet’s proficiency, that he was not only one of ‘God’s disciples, but also a public teacher of the Church. Nevertheless, acknowledging himself and all the upright to be only one their journey till they arrive at the close of life, he fails not to ask for the spirit of understanding. This passage informs us generally, that if God do not enlighten us with the spirit of discernment, we are not competent to behold the light which shines forth from his law, though it be constantly before us. And thus it happens, that not a few are blind even when surrounded with the clear revelation of this doctrine, because, confident in their own perspicacity, they contemn the internal illumination of the Holy Spirit. Farther, let us learn from this passage, that none are possessed of such superiority of intellect as not to admit of constant increase. If the prophet, upon whom God had conferred so honorable an office as a teacher of the Church, confesses himself to be only a disciple or scholar, what madness is it for those who are, greatly behind him in point of attainments not to strain every nerve to rise to higher excellence? Nor does he depend upon his own merits for obtaining his requests; he beseeches God to grant them from a regard to his own glory. This appears from the phraseology by which he introduces his request, Blessed art thou, O Jehovah! intimating, that his confidence of success originated in God’s being fully entitled to all praise on account of his unbounded goodness, justice, and mercy.
13. With my lips In this verse he declares that the law of God was not only deeply engraven on his own heart, but that it was his earnest and strenuous endeavor to gain over many of his fellow-disciples into subjection to God. It is indeed a heartless matter to speak of the law of God abstractly, as we see hypocrites do, who talk very fluently about the whole doctrine of godliness, to which they are entire strangers. What the prophet noticed above, respecting the affection of the heart for God’s law, he now likewise applies to the lips. And, immediately afterwards, he again establishes the truth of what he had asserted about his cordial and unfeigned endeavors to instruct others; by saying, that he derived no less pleasure from the doctrine of God than from all the riches of the world. He indirectly contrasts his holy love for the law, with which he was inflamed, with the unholy avarice which has taken possession of almost all the world. “As wealth attracts to itself the hearts of mankind, so I have taken more exquisite delight in the progress which I make in the doctrine of godliness, than if I abounded in all manner of riches.”
15. In thy precepts That to which I formerly adverted must not be forgotten — the prophet’s not making a boast of his own acquirements, but setting before others an example for their imitation. We are aware that the majority of mankind are so much involved in the cares of the world, as to leave no time or leisure for meditating upon the doctrine of God. To meet this callous indifference, he very seasonably commends diligence and attention. And even were we not so ensnared by the world, we know how readily we lose sight of the law of God, in the daily temptations which suddenly overtake us. It is not therefore without reason that the prophet exhorts us to constant exercise, and enjoins us to direct all our energies to the subject of meditation on God’s precepts. And as the life of men is unstable, being continually distracted by the carnality of their minds, he declares that he will consider attentively the ways of God. Subsequently, he repeats the exquisite pleasure he took in this pursuit. For our proficiency in the law of God will be small, until we cheerfully and heartily set our minds upon it. And, in fact, the commencement of a good life consists in God’s law attracting us to him by its sweetness. By the same means the lusts of the flesh, too, are subdued or mitigated. In our natural state, what is more agreeable to us than that which is sinful? This will be the constant tendency of our minds, unless the delight which we feel in the law carry us in the opposite direction.
ג 17. Do good to thy servant, that! may live, and keep thy word. ג 18. Open my eyes, and I shall see the marvelous things of thy law. ג 19. I am a stranger on the earth: do not conceal from me thy commandments. ג 20. My soul is rent with the desire it hath at all times unto thy judgments. ג 21. Thou hast destroyed the proud, they are accursed that wander from thy commandments. ג 22. Remove from me reproach and contempt; for I have kept thy testimonies. ג 23. Princes also did sit, they spoke against me: thy servant meditated on thy statutes. ג 24. Also thy testimonies are my delights, the men of my counsel.
17. Do good to thy servant The term גמל gamal, which some render to requite, does not, among the Hebrews, import mutual recompense, but frequently signifies to confer a benefit, as in Ps 116:7, and many other passages. Here it must be viewed as expressive of free favor. The words, however, may admit of two senses. They may be read as a separate clause, in this manner: O God! display thy goodness to thy servant, and thus I shall live, or then I shall esteem myself happy. Or the verse may form one connected statement: O God! grant to thy servant the favor that, while I live, I may keep thy commandments. If the former lection is adopted, then, by these words, the prophet declares that, without the favor of God, he is like a dead man; that though he might abound in every thing else, yet he could not subsist without feeling that God was propitious towards him. The latter interpretation is preferable, That the prophet asks as a principal favor, that, while he lives, he may devote himself entirely to God; being fully persuaded that the grand object of his existence consists in his exercising himself in his service, an object which he firmly resolves to pursue. For this reason these two clauses are connected together, that I may live, and keep thy word. “I desire no other mode of living than that of approving myself to be a true and faithful servant of God.” All wish God to grant them a prolongation of their life; a wish after which the whole world ardently aspire, and yet there is scarcely one among a hundred who reflects upon the purpose for which he ought to live. To withdraw us from cherishing such irrational propensities, the prophet here describes the main object of our existence. He declares it to be owing to the peculiar grace of the Holy Spirit, that any person keeps the law of God. Had he imagined that the preparing oneself for the observance of his law depended on his own free will, then this prayer would have been nothing else than downright hypocrisy.
Very similar is the doctrine contained in the next verse. Having acknowledged, that power to keep the law is imparted to men by God, he, at the same time, adds, that every man is blind, until he also enlighten the eyes of his understanding. Admitting that God gives light to us by his word, the prophet here means that we are blind amid the clearest light, until he remove the veil from our eyes. When he confesses that his eyes are veiled and shut, rendering him unable to discern the light of the heavenly doctrine, until God, by the invisible grace of his Spirit, open them, he speaks as if he were deploring his own blindness, and that of the whole human race. But, while God claims this power for himself, he tells us that the remedy is at hand, provided we do not, by trusting to our own wisdom, reject the gracious illumination offered to us. Let us learn, too, that we do not receive the illumination of the Spirit of God to make us contemn the external word, and take pleasure only in secret inspirations, like many fanatics, who do not regard themselves spiritual, except they reject the word of God, and substitute in its place their own wild speculations. Very different is the prophet’s aim, which is to inform us that our illumination is to enable us to discern the light of life, that God manifests by his word. He designates the doctrine of the law, marvelous things, 404 to humble us, to contemplate with admiration its height; and to convince us the more of our need of the grace of God, to comprehend the mysteries, which surpass our limited capacity. From which we infer, that not only the ten commandments are included in the term la but also the covenant of eternal salvation, with all its provisions, which God has made. And knowing, as we do, that Christ, “in whom are hid all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom,” “is the end of the law,” we need not be surprised at the prophet commending it, in consequence of the sublime mysteries which it contains, Col 2:3; Ro 10:4
19. I am a stranger on the earth. It is proper to inquire into the reason for his calling himself a sojourner and stranger in the world. The great concern of the unholy and worldly is to spend their life here easily and quietly; but those who know that they have their journey to pursue, and have their inheritance reserved for them in heaven, are not engrossed nor entangled with these perishable things, but aspire after that place to which they are invited. The meaning may be thus summed up: “Lord, since I must pass quickly through the earth, what will become of me if I am deprived of the doctrine of thy law?” We learn from these words from what point we must commence our journey, if we would go on our way cheerfully unto God.
Besides, God is said to conceal his commandments from those whose eyes he does not open, because, not being endued with spiritual vision, in seeing they see not, so that what is before their eyes is hid from them. And, to demonstrate that he does not present his request in a careless manner, the prophet adds, that his affection for the law is most intense; for it is no common ardor which is expressed by him in the following language, My soul is rent with the desire it hath at all times unto thy judgments. As the man who may concentrate all his thoughts on one point with such intensity as almost to deprive him of the power of perception, may be said to be the victim of his intemperate zeal, so the prophet declares the energy of his mind to be paralyzed and exhausted by his ardent love for the law. 405 The clause, at all times, is meant to express his perseverance; for it may occasionally happen that a man may apply himself with great ardor to the study of the heavenly doctrine; but it is only temporary-his zeal soon vanishes away. Steadfastness is therefore necessary, lest, through weariness, we become faint in our minds.
21. Thou hast destroyed the proud. Others render it:, Thou hast rebuked the proud; a translation of which the Hebrew term גער, gaar, admits when the letter ב, beth, is joined with it in construction; but this being awaiting, it is better to render it destroy 406 It makes, however, little difference to the main drift of the passage, there being no doubt that the intention of the prophet is, to inform us that God’s judgments instructed him to apply his mind to the study of the law; and certainly this is an exercise which we ought on no account to defer till God visit us with chastisement.. But when we behold him taking vengeance upon the wicked, and the despisers of his word, we must be stupid, indeed, if his rod do not teach us wisdom; and, doubtless, it is an instance of special kindness on God’s part, to spare us, and only to terrify us from afar, that he may bring us to himself without injuring or chastising us at all.
It is not without reason that he denominates all unbelievers proud, because it is true faith alone which humbles us, and all rebellion is the offspring of pride. From this we learn how profitable it is to consider carefully and attentively the judgments of God, by which he overthrows such haughtiness. When the weak in faith see the wicked rise in furious. opposition against God, arrogantly casting off all restraint, and holding all religion in derision with impunity, they begin to question whether there be a God who sits as judge in heaven. God may, for a time, wink at this: by-and-bye, we witness him setting forth some indication of his judgment, to convince us that he hath not in vain uttered threatening against the violators of his law; and we ought to bear in mind that all who depart from him are reprobate.
Let it be carefully observed that, by wandering from his commandments, is not meant all kinds of transgression indiscriminately, but that unbridled licentiousness which proceeds from impious contempt of God. It is, indeed, given as a general sentence, that
“every one is cursed who continueth not in all
things which are written,” De 27:26
But as Godwin his paternal kindness, bears with those who fail through infirmity of the flesh, so here we must understand these judgments to be expressly executed upon the wicked and reprobate; and their end, as Isaiah declares, is,
“that the inhabitants of the earth may learn righteousness,”
22. Remove from me reproach This verse may admit of two senses: Let the children of God walk as circumspectly as it is possible for them to do, they will not escape being liable to many slanders, and therefore they have good reason to petition God to protect the unfeigned godliness which they practice against poisonous tongues. The following meaning may not inappropriately be given to the passage: O Lord, since I am conscious to myself, and thou art a witness of my unfeigned integrity, do not permit the unrighteous to sully my reputation, by laying unfounded accusations to my charge. But the meaning will be more complete if we read it as forming one continued sentence: O God, permit not the ungodly to mock me for endeavoring to keep thy law. For this impiety has been rampant in the world even from the beginning, that the sincerity of God’s worshippers has been matter of reproach and derision; even as, at this day, the same reproaches are still cast upon God’s children, as if not satisfied with the common mode of living, they aspired being wiser than others. That which was spoken by Isaiah must now be accomplished, “Behold I and my children, whom thou hast given me to be for a sign;” so that God’s children, with Christ their head, are, among the profane, as persons to be wondered at. Accordingly, Peter testifies that they charge us with madness for not following their ways, (1Pe 4:4;) and as this reproach — the becoming the subjects of ridicule on account of their unfeigned affection for God’s law — tends to the dishonor of his name, the prophet very justly demands the suppression of all these taunts; and Isaiah also, by his own example, directs us to flee to this refuge, because, although the wicked may arrogantly pour out their blasphemies on the earth, yet God sitteth in heaven as our judge.
In the following verse, he states more plainly that it was not in vain he besought God to vindicate him from such calumnies; for he was held in derision, not only by the common people, and by the most abandoned of mankind, but also by the chief men, who sat as judges. The term, to sit, imports that they had spoken injuriously and unjustly of him, not merely in their houses and at their tables, but publicly and on the very judgment-seat, where it behooved them to execute justice, and render to every one his due. The particle גם, gam, which he employs, and which signifies also or even, contains an implied contrast between the secret whisperings of the common people, and the imperious decisions of these imperious men, enhancing still more the baseness of their conduct. Nevertheless, in the midst of all this he steadfastly persevered in following after godliness. Satan was assailing him with this device in order to drive him to despair, but he tells us that he sought a remedy from it in meditation on the law of God. We are here taught, that it is not unusual for earthly judges to oppress God’s servants, and make a mock of their piety. If David could not escape this reproach, why should we, in these times, expect to do so? Let us further learn, that there is nothing more perverse than to place dependence upon the judgments of men, because, in doing so, we must, of necessity, constantly be in a state of vacillation. Let us therefore rest satisfied with the approbation of God, though men causelessly defame us — not only men of low degree, but also the very judges themselves, from whom the utmost impartiality might be expected.
24. Also thy testimonies are my delight The particle גם, gam, connects this with the preceding verse. To adhere unflinchingly to our purpose, when the world takes up an unjust opinion of us, and, at the same time, constantly to mediate on God’s law, is an example of Christian fortitude seldom to be met with. The prophet now informs us how he overcame this temptation. Thy testimonies, says he, are my delight: “Although the cruel injustice of men, in charging me falsely, grieves and annoys me, yet the pleasurable delight which I take in thy law is a sufficient recompense for it all.” He adds, that God’s testimonies are his counselors, by which we are to understand he did not rely on his own judgment simply, but took counsel from the word of God. This point ought to be carefully considered, inasmuch as we see how blind affection predominates in directing the lives of men. Whence does the avaricious man ask council, but from the erroneous principle which he has assumed, that riches are superior to every thing? Why does the ambitious man aspire after nothing so much as power, but because he regards nothing equal to the holding of honorable rank in the world? It is not surprising, therefore, that men are so grievously misled, seeing they give themselves up to the direction of such evil counselors. Guided by the word of God, and prudently yielding obedience to its dictates, there will then be no inlet to the deceits of our flesh, and to the delusions of the world, and we will stand invincible against all the assaults of temptation.
ד 25. My soul cleaveth to the dust: quicken me according to thy word. ד 26. I have declared my ways, and thou didst answer me: teach me thy statutes. ד 27. Make me to understand the way of thy precepts: and I will meditate on thy wonderful works. ד 28. My soul, droppeth 407 away for grief: 408 raise me up according to thy word. ד 29. Take away from me the way of falsehood: and grant to me the favor of thy law. ד 30. I have chosen the way of truth: and I have set thy judgments before me. ד 31. I have cleaved to thy testimonies: O Jehovah! let me, not be ashamed. ד 32. I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt have enlarged my heart.
25. My soul cleaveth to the dust 409 He means that he had no more hope of life than if he had been shut up in the tomb; and this must be carefully attended to, that we my not become impatient and grieved, whenever it may please God to make us endure various kinds of death. And, by his own example, he instructs us, when death stares us in the face, and all hope of escape fails, to present our petitions to God, in whose hand, as we have elsewhere seen, are the issues of death, and whose peculiar prerogative it is to restore life to those that are dead, (Ps 68:21) As the combat is hard, he betakes himself to the promises of God, and invites others to do the same. The expression, according to thy word, 410 is an acknowledgment, that should he depart from God’s word, no hope would be left for him; but as God has affirmed that the life of the faithful is in his hand, and under his protection, shut up as he was in the grave, he yet comforted himself with the expectation of life.
26. I have declared my ways. In the first part of this verse he affirms he had prayed sincerely, and had not imitated the proud, who, trusting to their own wisdom, fortitude, and opulence, make not God their refuge. That man is said to declare his ways to God, who presumes neither to attempt nor undertake any thing unless with His assistance, and, depending wholly on His providence, commits all his plans to His sovereign pleasure, and centers all his affections in Him; doing all this honestly, and not as the hypocrites, who profess one thing with their lips, and conceal another within their hearts. He adds, that he was heard, which was of great importance in making him cherish good hope for the future.
In the second part of the verse he solemnly declares, that he holds nothing more dear than the acquiring of a true understanding of the law. There are not a few who make known their desires unto God, but then they would that he would yield to their extravagant passions. And, therefore, the prophet affirms that he desires nothing more than to be well instructed in God’s statutes. This statement is strengthened by the next verse, in which he once more asks the knowledge of these to be communicated to him. In both passages it must be carefully observed, that with the law of God set before us, we will reap little benefit from merely perusing it, if we have not his Spirit as our internal teacher.
Some expositors will have the word which I have translated, I will meditate, to be, I will entreat or argue, and thus the Hebrew term שוח, shuach, is referred both to the words and thoughts. The latter meaning is most in accordance with the scope of the passage. I take the import of the prophet’s words to be this: — That I may meditate upon thy wondrous works, make me to understand thy commandments. We will have no relish for the law of God until he sanctify our minds, and render them susceptible of tasting heavenly wisdom. And from this disrelish springs indifference, so that it is a grievous thing for the world to give a respectful attention to the law of God, having no savor for the admirable wisdom contained in it. With great propriety, therefore, does the prophet pray that this way may be opened to him by the gift of knowledge. From these words we are instructed, that in proportion to the spirit of knowledge given to us, our regard for the law of God, and our delight in meditating on it, ought to increase.
28. My soul droppeth away for grief As a little before he said that his soul cleaved to the dust, so now, almost in the same manner, he complains that it melted away with grief. Some are of opinion that he alludes to tears, as if he had said that his soul was dissolved in tears. But the simpler meaning is, that his strength was poured out like water. The verb is in the future tense, yet it denotes a continued action. The prophet assures himself of a remedy for this his extreme sorrow, provided God stretch out his hand towards him. Formerly, when almost lifeless, he entertained the expectation of a revival through the grace of God; now also, by the same means, he cherishes the hope of being restored to renovated and complete vigor, notwithstanding he was nearly consumed. He repeats the expression, according to thy word, because, apart from his word, God’s power would afford us little comfort. But when he comes to our aid, even should our courage and strength fail, his promise is abundantly efficacious to fortify us.
29. Take away from me the way of falsehood. Knowing how prone the nature of man is to vanity and falsehood, he first asks the sanctification of his thoughts, lest, being entangled by the snares of Satan, he fall into error. Next, that he may be kept from falsehood, he prays to be fortified with the doctrine of the law. The second clause of the verse is interpreted variously. Some render it, make thy law pleasant to me. And as the law is disagreeable to the flesh, which it subdues and keeps under, there is good cause why God should be asked to render it acceptable and pleasant to us. Some expound it, have mercy upon me according to thy law as if the prophet should draw pity from the fountain-head itself, because God in his law promised it to the faithful. Both of these meanings appear to me forced; and, therefore, I am more disposed to adopt another, freely grant to me thy law. The original term, חנני channeni, cannot be translated otherwise in Latin than, gratify thou me; an uncouth and barbarous expression I admit, yet that will give me: little concern, provided my readers comprehend the prophet’s meaning. 411 The amount is, that being full of blindness, nothing is more easy than for us to be greatly deceived by error. And, therefor unless God teach us by the Spirit of wisdom, we will presently be hurried away into various errors. The means of our being preserved from error are stated to consist in his instructing us in his law. He makes use of the term to gratify. “It is indeed an incomparable kindness that men are directed by thy law, but in consequence of thy kindness being unmerited, I have no hesitation in asking of thee to admit me as a participator of this thy kindness.” If the prophet, who for some time previous served God, in now aspiring after farther attainments, does not ask for a larger measure of grace to be communicated to him meritoriously, but confesses it to be the free gift of God, then that impious tenet, which obtains in the papacy, that an increase of grace is awarded to merit as deserving of it, must fall to the ground.
30. I have chosen the way of truth. In this and the following verse he affirms that he was so disposed as to desire nothing more than to follow righteousness and truth. It is, therefore, with great propriety he employs the term to choose. The old adage, that man’s life is as it were at the point where two ways meet, refers not simply to the general tenor of human life, but to every particular action of it. For no sooner do we undertake any thing, no matter how small, than we are grievously perplexed, and as if hurried off by a tempest, are confounded by conflicting counsels. Hence the prophet declares, that in order constantly to pursue the right path, he had resolved and fully determined not to relinquish the truth. And thus he intimates that he was not entirely exempted from temptations, yet that he had surmounted them by giving himself up to the conscientious observance of the law.
The last clause of the verse, I have set thy judgments before me, relates to the same subject. There would be no fixed choice on the part of the faithful, unless they steadily contemplate the law, and did not suffer their eyes to wander to and fro. In the subsequent verse he not only asserts his entertaining this holy affection for the law, but also combines it with prayer, that he might not become ashamed and enfeebled under the derision of the ungodly, while he gave himself wholly to the law of God. Here he employs the same term as formerly, when he said his soul cleaved to the dust, and, in doing so, affirms he had so firmly taken hold of God’s law, that he cannot be separated from it. From his expressing a fear lest he might be put to shame or overwhelmed with reproach, we learn that the more sincerely a man surrenders himself to God, the more will he be assailed by the tongues of the vile and the venomous.
32 I will run the way of thy commandments. The meaning of the prophet is, that when God shall inspire him with love for his la he will be vigorous and ready, nay, even steady, so as not to faint in the middle of his course. His words contain an implied admission of the supineness inability of men to make any advancement in well-doing until God enlarge their hearts. No sooner does God expand their hearts, than they are fitted not only for walking, but also for running in the way of his commandments. He reminds us that the proper observance of the law consists not merely in external works, — that it demands willing obedience, so that the heart must, to some extent, and in some way, enlarge itself. Not that it has the self-determining power of doing this, but when once its hardness and obstinacy are subdued, it moves freely without being any longer contracted by its own narrowness. Finally, this passage tells us, when God has once enlarged our hearts, there will be no lack of power, because, along with proper affection, he will furnish ability, so that our feet will be ready to run.
ה 33. Teach me, O Jehovah! the way of thy statutes; and I will keep it unto the end. ה 34. Make me to understand, and I will observe thy law; and keep it with my whole heart. ה 35. Direct me in the way of thy statutes; for in it does my heart take pleasure. ה 36. Incline my heart to thy testimonies, and not unto covetousness. ה 37. Turn away mine eyes from seeing vanity; in thy way quicken me. ה 38. Confirm thy word to thy servant, who ‘.is devoted to thy ear. ה 39. Remove from me the reproach of which I am afraid: for thy judgments are good. ה 40. Lo! I have a desire to thy commandments: quicken me in thy righteousness.
33. Teach me, O Jehovah/the way of thy statutes. He again presents the same prayer which he has already frequently done in this psalm, it being of the last importance for us to know that the main thing in our life consists in having God for our governor. The majority of mankind think of anything rather than this, as that which they ought to ask from God. The Holy Spirit, therefore, often inculcates this desire, and we ought always to keep it in mind, that not only the inexperienced and unlearned, but those who have made great progress, may not cease to aspire after farther advancement. And as the Spirit of understanding comes from above, they should seek to be guided by his invisible agency to the proper knowledge of the law.
In the second clause of the verse the prophet points out the particular kind of doctrine of which he treats, that which virtually and effectually tends to renovate the heart of man. Interpreters explain the word עקב, ekeb, two ways. Some would have it to denote wages or reward, and then the Psalmist’s meaning would be: After I have been well instructed, then shall I know that those who apply themselves to the observance of thy law will not labor in vain; and, therefore, for the sake of the reward, I will keep thy commandments, persuaded that thou wilt never disappoint thy servants. Others render it, until the end, because those whom God teaches he teaches successfully, and, at the same time, strengthens them for prosecuting their journey without feeling lassitude or languor by the way, and enables them to persevere with constancy until they arrive at the termination of their course. I am far from supposing that he has no reference to the grace of perseverance. Let my readers, however, consider whether this verse may not be taken simply as the words stand in the original. The preposition until is not expressed by the prophet, who merely says, I will keep the end. “Lord, I have need of constant teaching, that I may not fall short of, but keep my eye continually upon my mark; for thou commandest me to run in thy course, on condition that death alone should be the goal. Unless thou teach me daily, this perseverance will not be found in me. But if thou guide me, I will be constantly upon the watch, and will never turn away my eyes from my end, or aim.” In my version I have inserted the commonly received reading.
34. Make me to understand We are here informed that true wisdom consists in being wise according to the law of God, that it may preserve us in fear and obedience to him. In asking God to confer this wisdom upon him, he owns that men, in consequence of their natural blindness, aim at anything rather than this. And, indeed, it is quite foreign to the notions usually prevalent among mankind to strain every nerve to keep God’s law. The world esteems as wise those only who look well to their own interests, are acute and politic in temporal matters, and who even excel in the art of beguiling the simple. In opposition to such a sentiment, the prophet pronounces men to be void of true understanding as long as the fear of God does not predominate among them. For himself he asks no other prudence than the surrendering of himself entirely to God’s direction. At the same Lime, he acknowledges this to be the special gift of God, which none can procure by his own power or policy; for were each adequate to be his own teacher in this matter, then this petition would be superfluous.
Moreover, as the observance of the law is no common occurrence, he employs two terms in reference to it. “Lord, it is a high and hard thing to keep thy law strictly as it ought, which demands from us purity beyond what we are able to attain; yet, depending on the heavenly illumination of thy Spirit, I will not cease my endeavors to keep it.” The following, however, renders the meaning more clear: “Give me understanding to keep and observe thy law with my whole heart.” Mention is made of the whole heart, to tell us how far they are from the righteousness of the law who obey it only in the letter, doing nothing deserving of blame in the sight of men. God puts a restraint principally on the heart, that genuine uprightness may flourish there, whose fruits may afterwards appear in the life. This spiritual observance of the law is a most convincing evidence of the necessity of being divinely prepared and formed for it.
35. Direct me in the path The frequent repetition of this phraseology by the prophet is not to be considered as redundant. Seeing that the end of man’s existence ought to consist in profiting in God’s school, we nevertheless perceive how the world distracts him by its allurements, and how he also forms for himself a thousand avocations calculated to withdraw his thoughts from the main business of his life. The next clause of the verse, in it I take pleasure, must be carefully attended to. For it is an indication of rare excellence when a person so arranges his sentiments and affections as to renounce all the enticements pleasant to the flesh, and take delight in nothing so much as in the service of God. The prophet had already attained to this virtue but he still perceives that he is not yet perfect. Therefore, that his desire may be fully accomplished, he solicits fresh assistance from God, according to the saying of Paul,
“It is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasures” Php 2:13.
Let it be remembered, that he does not boast of the inherent working of his nature, but sets forth the grace he has received, that God may complete the work he has begun. “Lord, thou hast given me courage, grant me also strength.” Hence in the term pleasure there is an implied opposition to the lusts of the flesh, which keep the hearts of mankind lettered by their enticements.
36. Incline my heart In this verse he confesses the human heart to be so far from yielding to the justice of God, that it is more inclined to follow an opposite course. Were we naturally and spontaneously inclined to the righteousness of the law, there would be no occasion for the petition of the Psalmist, Incline my heart It remains, therefore, that our hearts are full of sinful thoughts, and wholly rebellious, until God by his grace change them. This confession on the part of the prophet must not be overlooked, That the natural corruption of man is so great, that he seeks for any thing rather than what is right, until he be turned by the power of God to new obedience, and thus begin to be inclined to that which is good.
In the second clause of the verse the prophet points to those impediments which prevent mankind from attaining to the desire of righteousness; their being inclined to covetousness. By a figure of speech, 412 in which a part is put for the whole, the species is put for the genus. The Hebrew term, בצע batsang, signifies to use violence, or to covet, or to defraud; but covetousness is most in accordance with the spirit of the passage, provided we admit the prophet to have selected this species, “the root of all evils,” to demonstrate that nothing is more opposed to the righteousness of God, (1Ti 6:10). We are here instructed generally, that we are so much under the influence of perverse and vicious affections, our hearts abhor the study of God’s law, until God inspire us with the desire for that which is good.
37. Turn away mine eyes. By these words we are taught that all our senses are so filled with vanity, that, until refined and rectified, their alienation from the pursuit of righteousness is no matter of surprise. In the former verse he informed us of the reigning of that depravity in the hearts of men, which he now says reaches also to the outward senses. “The disease of covetousness not only lurks in our hearts, but spreads over every part, so that neither eyes, ears, feet, nor hands, have escaped its baneful influence; in a word, nothing is exempted from corruption.” And we know, assuredly, that the guilt of original sin is not confined to one faculty of man only; it pervades his whole constitution. If our eyes must be turned away from vanity by the special grace of God, it follows, that, as soon as they are opened, they are eagerly set on the impostures of Satan, by which they are beset on all sides. If Satan only laid snares for us, and were we possessed of sufficient prudence to guard against his deceits, it could not, with propriety, be said that God turned away our eyes from vanity; but, as they are naturally set upon sinful allurements, there is need for their being withdrawn from them. As often, then, as we open our eyes, we must not forget that two gates are opened for the devil to enter our hearts, unless God guard us by his Holy Spirit. The remarks which he makes, in reference to the eyes, are equally applicable to the other senses, inasmuch as he again employs that figure of speech, by which a part is taken for the whole.
The other clause of the verse corresponds well with the meaning here given. Others may propose different interpretations; I think, however, the following is the most natural: Lord, as the whole life of mankind is accursed, so long as they employ their powers in committing sin, grant that the power which I possess may aspire after nothing except the righteousness which thou appointest us. The better to manifest this, we must lay it down as a first principle, that seeing, hearing, walking, and feeling, are God’s precious gifts; that our understandings and will, with which we are furnished, are a still more valuable gift; and, after all, there is no look of the eyes, no motion of the senses, no thought of the mind, unmingled with vice and depravity. Such being the case, the prophet, with good reason, surrenders himself entirely to God, for the mortification of the flesh, that he might begin to live anew.
38. Confirm thy word unto thy servant. Here we have briefly set forth the sole end and legitimate use of prayer, which is, that we may reap the fruits of God’s promises. Whence it comes to pass, that they commit sin who utter vague and incoherent desires. For we perceive the prophet allows not himself to petition or wish any thing but what God hath condescended to promise. And certainly their presumption is great, who rush into the presence of God without any call from his word; as if they would make him subservient to their humor and caprice. The argument by which the Psalmist enforces his plea deserves to be noticed; because I am devoted to thy fear. The relative אשר asher, in this place bears the signification of the causal conjunction, because or for. The prophet intimates that he does not content himself with mere temporal enjoyments, as worldly men do; and that he did not make a preposterous abuse of God’s promises, to secure the delights of the flesh, but that he made his fear and reverence his aim. And truly the best assurance which we can have of obtaining our requests is when these and God’s service harmonize, and our sole desire is that he may reign in and over us.
39. Take away my reproach. It is not certain to what reproach he alludes. Knowing that many calumniators were on the watch to find occasion for reviling him, should they happen to detect him in any offense, it is not without reason he dreaded lest he might fall into such disgrace, and that by his own fault. Probably he might be apprehensive of some other reproach, aware that wicked men shamefully and injuriously slander the good generally, and, by their calumnies, distort and pervert their good actions. The concluding clause, Because the judgments of God are good, is the reason why God should put to silence the mischievous tongues, which pour out the venom of their malice without shame against the innocent, who are reverently observing his law. If any be inclined to view the word reproach as directed against God himself, such an interpretation is by no means objectionable, That the prophet, whose aim it was to stand approved as to his life in God’s sight, merely desired, when he appeared before his tribunal, not to be judged as a reprobate man; just as if, with great zeal and magnanimity, he would despise all the empty talk of the men of the world, provided he stood upright in God’s sight. Above all, it becomes holy men to dread the reproach of being suffused with shame at God’s judgment-seat.
40. Behold, I have a desire to thy precepts This is a repetition of what he declared a little before, with regard to his pious affection, and his love of righteousness; and that nothing was wanting but God to complete the work which he had commenced. If this interpretation be admitted, then, to be quickened in the righteousness of God, will be tantamount to being quickened in the way. The term righteousness is often put in this psalm for the law of God, or the rule of a righteous life. This view tends to make the two parts of the verse accord with one another. “Lord, this is now a remarkable kindness thou hast done me, in having inspired me with a holy desire to keep thy law; one thing is still necessary, that this same virtue pervade my whole life.” But as the word righteousness is ambiguous, my readers may, if they choose, understand it thus: Restore, defend, and maintain me for the sake of thy goodness, which thou art wont to show to all thy people. I have already pointed out the exposition which I prefer.
ו 41. And let thy mercies come to me, O Jehovah! and thy salvation, according to thy word. ו 42. And I will answer a word to him who reproacheth me, because I have trusted in thy word. ו 43. And take not the word of truth too long out, of my mouth, because I hope for thy judgments. ו 44. And I will keep thy law always, even for ever and ever. ו 45. And I will walk at ease; 413 because I have sought thy statutes. ו 46. And I will speak of thy testimonies before kings, and will not be ashamed. ו 47. And 1f will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved. ו 48. And I will lift up my hands to thy statutes, which I have loved, and will meditate on thy precepts.
41. Let thy mercies come to me There can be no doubt, that, in mentioning the mercy of God first, and afterwards his salvation, the Psalmist, according to the natural order, puts the cause before the effect. By adopting this arrangement, he acknowledges that there is no salvation for him but in the pure mercy of God. And while he desires a gracious salvation, he, at the same time, relies on the promise, as we have already elsewhere seen.
In the second verse he boasts that he is furnished with the best defense against the calumnies of his enemies, arising from his trust in the word of God. We may resolve the future tense into the optative mood, as many do: O Lord, since I have trusted in thy word, grant that my mouth with all boldness may repel the slanders which they utter against me, and suffer me not to be silent when they load me with unmerited reproach.” Whichever of these meanings we adopt, we are taught that there will always be evil-speakers, who will not cease to defame the children of God, though they be entirely undeserving of such treatment. It is somewhat dubious to what particular kind of reproach he refers; for the ungodly not only cover the children of God with ignominy, but also make their faith the subject of ridicule. I prefer the following interpretation, because it agrees best with the context, and David is here placing his trust in God in opposition to their derision. “I shall have something to reply to the base mockery of the enemies who injure me without cause, in that God never disappoints those who place their confidence in him.” If any one be inclined to consider the passage as embracing both meanings, I offer no objection to it. Besides, he does not simply say, that he trusted in God, but that he also trusted in his word, which is the ground of his trust. We must carefully attend to the correspondence and mutual relation between the term word, in the first part of the verse, and that in the other. Were not God, by his Word, to furnish us with another word for our defense, we would instantly be overwhelmed with the insolence of our enemies. If, then, we wish to be proof against the attacks of the world, the commencement and foundation of our magnanimity is here pointed out to us, — our trusting in God’s word, guarded by which, the Spirit of God calls upon us boldly to contemn the virulent blasphemies of the ungodly. And to qualify us for repelling such blasphemies, he connects the word of hope with the word of confession.
43. Take not the word of truth too long out of my mouth 414 It may be asked, why he demands rather to have his tongue filled with, than his heart fortified by, the word of truth; inasmuch as the latter takes the precedence, both in point of order and of excellence. What will it profit us to be fluent and eloquent in speech, if our hearts are destitute of faith? On the other hand, wherever there is firm faith, there to speech will flow ultroneously. My reply is, that David was not so concerned about outward confession as not to give the preference to the faith of the heart; but considering that he is making his address to God, there is nothing strange in his making mention only of the former, under which, however, he includes also the latter. “Lord, support not only my heart by faith, lest I be overwhelmed with temptation, but grant me also freedom of speech, that I may fearlessly sound forth thy praises among men.” We observe, when he asks to be endued with boldness of speech, that he begins with the heart.
It may be farther inquired here, why he says too long, just as if he were not afraid of being deprived of the word of truth for a short time. Such a supposition were most absurd, seeing we must watch every moment lest we be overtaken by the enemy, when we are unarmed and powerless. The solution of this difficulty must be drawn from our own experience; for in this, the infirmity of our flesh, it is almost impossible but that, occasionally, even the stoutest heart will quail under the violent assaults of Satan. And although their faith fails not, yet it shakes, and they do not find such presence of mind, as that there is constantly a uniform train of speech, and a prompt reply to the derision’s of the ungodly; but, on the contrary, they rather begin to stagger and quake for a short time. Conscious of this weakness, which is perceptible in all mankind, he accommodates his prayer in the following manner: “Though I am not always prepared with that boldness of speech which is desirable, suffer me not to continue long silent.” By this language the prophet tacitly admits, that he had not been so steadfast and bold as was requisite, but that he was, as it were, struck speechless by reason of fear. Whence we may learn, that the faculty of speaking freely is no more in our power than are the affections. of the heart. As far, then, as God directs our tongues, they are prepared for ready utterance; but no sooner does he withdraw the spirit of magnanimity, than not only our hearts faint, or rather fail, but also our tongues become mute. The cause of this is subjoined in these words, for I have waited for thy judgments for so he literally expresses himself. From which we conclude, that judgments refer not merely to the precepts of the law, but also to the promises, which constitute the true foundation of our confidence. Some render it, I was afraid of thy. judgments, deriving the word here employed from the root חול chul; which translation I am unable to say whether it be suitable or not. But of this I am certain, that to understand judgments as equivalent to punishments, is quite foreign to the design of the prophet.
44. I will keep thy law continually He resolves to devote himself to the study of the law, not for a short time only, but even to the termination of his life. The employing of three synonymous words, תמיד, tamid, עולם, olam, עד, ed, so far from being viewed as a superfluous accumulation of terms, contains an implied indication, that, unless the faithful make a strenuous and steady opposition, the fear of God may be gradually effaced from their minds by various temptations, and they will lose the affection which they bear for the law. In order, therefore, that he may be the better prepared for meeting these trials, he alludes to the difficulty and danger connected with them.
The next verse may be read as expressing a desire that he might walk. Be this as it may, we retain the commonly received reading, That David exults at the thought of his path becoming plain and easy, in consequence of his seeking diligently after God’s precepts; that is, to walk at ease The ways of men are frequently rugged and obstructed, because they themselves lay various stumblingblocks in them, or entangle themselves in many inextricable windings. Hence it comes to pass, that while none will submit to the word of God as their rule, every man endures the punishment legitimately due to such arrogance. On all sides God lays snares for us, puts pitfalls in our way, causes us to fall in with paths broken and rugged, and at last shuts us up in a bottomless pit: and by how much the more politic a mart is, by so much the more will he meet with obstructions in his path.
This verse teaches us that, if any man yield implicit obedience to God, he will receive this as his reward, that he shall walk with a calm and composed mind; and should he meet with difficulties, he will find the means of surmounting them. The faithful, however readily and submissively they give themselves up to God, may happen to find themselves involved in perplexity; nevertheless, the end contemplated by Paul is accomplished, that though they be in trouble and toil, yet they do not continue in irremediable distress, because it is the duty (so to speak) of God to point out a way for them where there seems to be no way, (2Co 4:8.) Moreover, when grievously oppressed, even then they walk at ease, for they commit the doubtful issue of events to God in such a manner, that, having him for their guide, they have no doubt they will come out boldly from the depths of distress.
46. And I will steal, of thy testimonies before kings 415 In these words he seems to believe that he is in possession of that which he formerly prayed for. Having said, “Take not away the word out of my mouths” and now, as if he had obtained what he requested, he rises up, and maintains he will not be dumb, even were he called upon to speak in the presence of kings. There can be no question that he affirms he would willingly stand forward in vindication of the glory of God in the face of the whole world. He selects kings, who are generally more to be dreaded than other men, and haughtily shut the mouths of God’s witnesses. Sometimes, indeed, it happens we will not hold out even in the presence of men in the humblest ranks of life. The moment a man sets himself in opposition to the word of God, we instinctively shrink back from fear; and that boldness of speech, of which we boasted at first, instantly disappears: but our want of courage is most palpable when we are summoned before the thrones of kings. And this is the reason why David asserts, that he will not only hold out against enemies among the meanest of men, but also will remain firm and fearless before kings. These words inform us that we have profited well and truly by God’s word, when our hearts are so completely fortified against the fear of man, that we do not dread the presence of kings, even though all the world attempts; to fill us with dejection and dismay. It is most unbecoming that God’s glory should be obscured by their empty splendor.
47. And I will delight myself The sentiment contained in this verse is similar to that which he had previously mentioned. The amount is, he held the commandments of God in such high esteem, that he experienced nothing more pleasant to him than the making of them his constant theme of meditation. By the term delight, he expresses the intensity of his love. The phrase I will lift up my hands, refers, to the same thing. It is a sure indication that we eagerly desire a thing when we stretch out the hands to grasp and enjoy it. This simile, therefor denotes the ardor of his desire. 416 If a man, by his mien and gait pretend any such affection for the law of God, and yet pay no regard to it in the affairs of life, he would be justly chargeable with the basest hypocrisy. Again, he affirms, that that affection, so earnest and so ardent, springs from the sweetness of the law of God having knit our hearts to it. Finally, he says, he would meditate on God’s testimonies. Along with the majority of commentators, I have no doubt that the word שוח shuach, denotes that silent and secret musing in which the children of God exercise themselves.
ז 49. Remember thy word to thy servant, I, which thee hast made him hope. ז 50. This is my consolation in my affliction, because thy word revives me. ז 51. The proud have greatly scorched me: I have not turned aside from thy law. ז 52. I called to mind thy judgments of old, O Jehovah! and comforted myself. ז 53. Terror seized me, for’ the wicked who forsake thy law. ז 54. Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage. ז 55. By night I remembered thy name, O Jehovah! and I kept, thy law. ז 56. This is done to me, because I have kept thy statutes.
49. Remember thy word. He prays that God would really perform what he promised; for the event proves that he does not forget his word. That he is speaking of the promises we infer from the end of the verse, in which he declares, that cause was given him to hope, for which there would be no place unless grace had been presented to him. In the second verse he asserts, that though God still kept him in suspense, yet he reposed with confidence in his word. At the same time he informs us, that during his troubles and anxieties, he did not search after vain consolation as the world is wont to d who look around them in all quarters to find something to mitigate their miseries; and if any allurements tickle their fancy, they make use of these as a remedy for alleviating their sorrows. On the contrary, the prophet says he was satisfied with the word of God itself; and that when all other refuges failed him, there he found life full and perfect; nevertheless, he covertly confesses, that if he do not acquire courage from the word of God, he will become like a dead man. The ungodly may sometimes experience elevation of spirit during their miseries, but they are totally destitute of this inward strength of mind. The prophet, then, had good reason for stating, that in the time of affliction the faithful experience animation and rigor solely from the word of God inspiring them with life,. Hence, if we meditate carefully on his word, we shall live even in the midst of death, nor will we meet with any sorrow so heavy for which it will not furnish us with a remedy. And if we are bereft of consolation and succor in our adversities, the blame must rest with ourselves; because, despising or overlooking the word of God, we purposely deceive ourselves with vain consolation.
51. The proud have greatly scorned me This example is eminently useful, as it serves to inform us, that though our honesty may render us obnoxious to the insults of the ungodly, we ought, by our unflinching constancy, to repel their pride, lest we should take a dislike to the law of God. Many who, in other respects, would be disposed to fear God, yield to this temptation. The earth has always been filled with the impious contemners of God, and at this day it is almost overrun with them. Wherefore, if we do not disregard their reviling, there will be no stability in our faith. In calling unbelievers proud, he applies to them a very appropriate designation: for their wisdom consists in despising God, lightly esteeming his judgments, trampling all piety under foot, and, in short, pouring contempt upon the celestial kingdom. Were they not blinded with pride, they would not follow such a headlong course. We must interpret the words in this manner: Though the proud have treated me with scorn, I have not turned aside from thy law. We must not overlook the,, particle very much, or greatly, which imports, that he was harassed, not merely occasionally or for a short time, by the ungodly, but that the attack was continued from day to day. Let us learn from these words, that the wicked, in consequence of their forming the great majority of mankind, arrogate to themselves the greater liberty. The number of the godly who worship God reverently is always small. Hence we must hold out against a large troop and rabble of the impious if we would maintain our integrity.
52. I called to mind thy judgments of old, O Jehovah! In this psalm, the judgments of God are generally taken for his statutes and decrees, that is, his righteousness. 417 In this place, in consequence of the qualifying phrase, of old, it is more probable that they refer to the examples by which God has made himself known as the righteous Judge of the world. Why does he say that the law of God has been from everlasting? This may to some extent be accounted for from the righteousness here mentioned not being of recent growth, but truly everlasting, because the written law is just an attestation of the law of nature, through means of which God recalls to our memory that which he has previously engraved on our hearts.
I am rather inclined to adopt another interpretation, That David remembered the judgments of God, by which he testified that he had established his law perpetually in the world, Such a settlement is very necessary for us; because, when God does not make bare his arm, his word frequently produces little impression. But when he takes vengeance upon the ungodly, he confirms what he had spoken; and this is the reason why in civil law penalties are called confirmations. The term accords better with God’s judgments, by which he establishes the authority of his law, as if a true demonstration accompanied his words. And seeing he declares that he called to mind the most ancient of God’s judgments, it becomes us to learn, that if his judgments are not displayed as frequently as we would desire, for the strengthening of our faith, this is owing to our ingratitude and apathy; for in no past age have there been wanting clear demonstrations for this very purpose; and thus it may with truth be affirmed, that God’s judgments have flowed in one continued manner from age to age, and that the reason why we have not perceived them is, our not deigning to open our eyes to behold them. If any one object, that it is contrary to the nature of his judgments to afford consolation to because they are calculated rather to strike us with terror, the answer is at handy — that the faithful are made to tremble for fear of God’s judgments, as far as is requisite for the mortification of their flesh. On the other hand, these supply them with a large source of consolation, from the fact of their learning from them, that God exercises his superintending providence over the human race. Farther, they learn, that after the wicked have reveled in licentiousness for a season, they shall at length be sisted before the judgment-seat of God; but that they themselves, after having patiently combated under such a Guardian of their welfare, can be in no doubt about their preservation.
53. Terror seized me 418 This verse may be understood in two senses; either that the prophet was grievously afflicted when he saw God’s law violated by the wicked, or that he was horror-struck at the thought of their perdition. Some would render it ardor, which does not so properly agree with the nature of the passage; I therefore abide by the term fear, by which I think his ardent zeal is pointed out, in that he was not only deeply grieved at the transgressions of the law, but held in the utmost detestation the impious boldness of those who lightly esteemed the law of God. At the same time, it is worthy of notice, that it is no new ground of offense to the faithful, if numbers throw off God’s yoke, and set up the standard of rebellion against him. This, I repeat, must be attended to, because many derive flimsy and frivolous pretexts for it, from the degeneracy of the age, as if they must needs howl while they live among wolves. In the days of David, we see there were many who apostatized from the faith, and yet, so far was he from being discouraged or dismayed by these things, that the fear of God rather kindled a holy indignation in his bosom. What is to be done, then, when surrounded by bad examples, but that we should vie with each other in holding them up to detestation? And here a contrast, if not directly stated, is implied, between the flattering unction which we apply to ourselves, believing that all is lawful which is common, and the horror with which the prophet tells us he was seized. If the wicked, haughtily and without restraint, set themselves in opposition to God, in consequence of our not being alive to his judgments, we convert that into an occasion of perverse confidence and insensibility. On the contrary, the prophet asserts that he was seized with horror, because, though he considered the long-suffering of God, on the one hand, yet, on the other, he was fully persuaded that he must, sooner or later, call for condign punishment.
54. Thy statutes have been my songs. 419 He repeats in different words what he had formerly mentioned, that the law of God was his sole or special delight during all his life. Singing is an indication of joy. The saints are pilgrims in this world, and must be regarded as God’s children and heirs of heaven, from the fact that they are sojourners on earth. By the house of their pilgrimage, then, may be understood their journey through life. One circumstance merits particular notice, that David, during his exile from his native country, ceased not to draw consolation, amid all his hardships, from the law of God, or rather a joy which rose above all the sadness which his banishment occasioned to him. It was a noble specimen of rare virtue, that when he was denied a sight of the temple, could not draw near to the sacrifices, and was deprived of the ordinances of religion, he yet never departed from his God. The phrase, the house of his pilgrimage, is employed, therefore, to enhance the conduct of David, who, when banished from his country, still retained the law of God deeply engraved on his heart, and who, amid the severity of that exile, which was calculated to deject his spirits, cheered himself by meditating upon the law of God.
55. By night I remembered thy name, O Jehovah! As the second clause of the verse depends on the first, I consider the whole verse as setting forth one and the same truth; and, therefore, the prophet means that he was induced, by the remembrance he had of God, to keep the law. Contempt of the law originates in this, that few have any regard for God; and hence, the Scripture, in condemning the impiety of men, declares that they have forgotten God, (Ps 50:22; 78:11; 106:21). To rectify this, David exhorts that the remembrance of God is the only remedy for preserving us hi his fear, and in the observance of his law; and assuredly, as often as his majesty occurs to our minds, it will tend to humble us, and the very thought of it will provoke us to the cultivation of godliness. The word night is not intended by him to mean the remembering of God merely for, short time, but a perpetual remembrance of him; he, however, refers to that season in particular, because then almost all our senses are overpowered with sleep. “When other men are sleeping, God occurs to my thoughts during my sleep.” He has another reason for alluding to the night-season, That we may be apprised, that though there was none to observe him, and none to put him in remembrance of it, — yea, though he was shrouded in darkness, — yet he was as solicitous to cherish the remembrance of God, as if’ he occupied the most public and conspicuous place.
56. This was done to me. I doubt not that the prophet, under the term זאת, zoth, comprehends all God’s benefits; but as he comes before God in relation to blessings then being enjoyed by him, he speaks as if he were pointing to them. Hence, under this term is included an acknowledgment of all the benefits with which he had been crowned; or, at all events, he declares that God had borne testimony, by some signal deliverance, to the integrity of his conduct. He does not boast of meriting any thing, as the Pharisees in our day do, who, when they meet with any such matter in Scripture, pervert it to prove the merit of works. But the prophet had no other design, than to set himself in diametrical opposition to the despisers of God, who either impute all their prosperity to their own industry, or ascribe it to chance, and malignantly overlook or conceal God’s superintending providence. He therefore calls upon himself to return to God, and invites others to follow his example, and exhorts them, that as God is an impartial judge, he will always reserve a recompense for piety. Probably, too, by this holy boasting he repels the base slanders of the ungodly, by which we lately saw he was grievously assailed.
ח 57. Thou art my portion, O Jehovah! I have said I will keep thy words. ח 58. I have earnestly besought thy face with my whole heart; have mercy upon me according to thy word. ח 59. I thought upon my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies. ח 60. I made haste, and did not delay to keep thy commandments. ח 61. The cords of the wicked have caught hold of me; 420 but I did not forget thy law. ח 62. I will rise at midnight to praise thee for thy righteous judgments. ח 63. I am a companion to all those who fear thee, and who keep thy precepts. ח 64. O Jehovah! the earth is full of thy mercy; teach me thy statutes.
57. Thou art my portion, O Jehovah! The meaning of this clause is doubtful, because the term Jehovah may be rendered either in the nominative or vocative case, and the phrase, I have said, may relate either to the former or latter part of the verse. One lection then is, Jehovah is my portion, and, therefore, I have resolved to observe thy law. Another is, O God! who art my portion, I have resolved to observe thy law. A third is, I have said, or have resolved, that God is my portion, in order to observe his law. A fourth is, I have said, or have resolved, O Lord! that my portion is to observe thy law; and this is the reading of which I approve. The following interpretation is quite applicable, That God being our portion, ought to animate and encourage us to observe his law. We have already noticed in several other passages, that God is denominated the heritage of the faithful, because he alone is sufficient for their full and entire happiness. And seeing he has chosen us for his peculiar possession, it is only reasonable on our part, that we should rest satisfied with him alone; and if we do this, our hearts will also be disposed to keep his law and, renouncing all the lusts of the flesh, our supreme delight, and firm resolution, will be to continue in the same.
I have already said, that this exposition is not inconsistent with the scope of the passage, and that it furnishes a very useful doctrine. But the last and fourth reading, of which I remarked I approved, is more simple, — I am fully persuaded that my best portion consists in keeping God’s law; — and this accords with the saying of Paul, “Godliness is the best gain,” (1Ti 6:6). David here draws a comparison between the keeping of the law, and the imaginary good which captivates the ambition of mankind. “Let every one covet what seems to him good, and revel in his own pleasures; I have no ground to envy them, provided I retain this as my portion, the complete surrender of myself to the word of God.”
58. I have earnestly besought thy face. In this verse David asserts, that he still persevered in the exercise of prayer; for without prayer faith would become languid and lifeless. The manner in which he expresses himself, which, in other languages, might be unpolished, among the Hebrews, expresses that familiar communication to which God admits, and even invites his servants when they come into his presence. The substance of his prayers, and the sum of his desires, he comprehends in a single sentence; namely, that he implored the mercy of God, the sure hope of which he had formed from his word. Let us observe, then, in the first place, we are aroused from our supineness, that we may exercise our faith by prayer. In the second place, the principal thing for which we ought to pray is, that God, out of his free grace, may be favorable to us, look on our affection, and grant us relief. God does, indeed, aid us in a variety of ways, and our necessities also are innumerable; still the thing which we must principally and particularly request is, that he: will have mercy upon us, which is the source of every other blessing. And, in the last place, that we may not present prayers that have no meaning, let us learn that God, in all his promises, is set before us as if he were our willing debtor.
59. I thought upon my ways 421 The amount is, that after the prophet had paid due regard to his manner of life, his only aim then was to follow the teaching of the law. In these words he intimates indirectly, that if it be inquired why men go astray, and are miserably distracted amidst conflicting impulses, the reason is, their thoughtlessly indulging themselves in the gratification of their passions. Every man watches most carefully, and applies all his energy to whatever his inclination may lead him, but all are blind in choosing the object which they ought to pursue; or rather, as if their eyes were sealed, they are either hurried away inconsiderately, or else, through carelessness, wander imperceptibly from one object to another. One thing is certain, that there is no one who carefully considers his ways; and, therefore, it is not without reason the prophet exhorts us, that the commencement of a godly life consists in men awaking from their lethargy, examining their ways, and, at last, wisely considering what it is to regulate their conduct properly. He next instructs us, that when a person is inclined in good earnest to frame the course of his life well, there is nothing better than for him to follow the direction which the Lord points out. In fact, were not men infatuated, they would universally and unanimously make choice of God to be the guide of their life.
60. I made haste Though the words are in the past tense, they denote a continued act. The prophet declares with what promptitude he dedicated himself to the service of God. Diligence and dispatch demonstrate the favor of his zeal. Next, in saying that he delayed not, 422 this, according to the Hebrew idiom, gives intensity to the idea conveyed by the phrase, I made haste As among the Hebrews, to speak and not to keep silence is equivalent to speaking freely, unreservedly, and without dissimulation, as the occasion demands, so to make haste and not delay is to run quickly without doubt or delay. If we reflect on our own listlessness, and on the snares which Satan never fails to put in our way, we will at once perceive that these words are not added in vain. For let a man be ever so desirous of applying himself truly and heartily to the righteousness of God, yet, according to Paul, we know that “he does not the thing that he would,” (Rom. 7:15, 18, 19). Although no outward obstacle may stand in our way, yet we are so retarded by impediments within, that nothing is more difficult than to make haste to keep the law of God. At the same time we must remember, that the prophet is here speaking comparatively in reference to those who are chargeable with procrastination during the greater part of their life, and who draw near to God, not only hesitatingly and tardily, but also purposely loiter in their course, or else prevent themselves from coming by their tortuous ways. The prophet did not manifest more alacrity in serving God than Paul; all he intends, therefore, is, that having surmounted all obstacles which lay in his way, he prosecuted his journey with rapidity. And by his example he teaches us, that the pleas which we offer in extenuation of our indolence, either arising from the impediments presented by the world or our own infirmity, are vain and frivolous.
61. The cords of the wicked have caught hold of me. Those who translate חבלי, cheblei, by sorrows, bring out no natural meaning, and perplex themselves as well as wrest the passage. Two readings then remain, either of which may be admitted: The cords of the wicked have caught hold of me, or The companies of the wicked have robbed me 423 Whether we adopt the one or the other of these readings, what the prophet intends to declare is, that when Satan assailed the principles of piety in his soul, by grievous temptations, he continued with undeviating steadfastness in the love and practice of God’s law. Cords may, however, be understood in two ways; either, first, as denoting the deceptive allurements by which the wicked endeavored to get him entangled in their society; or, secondly, the frauds which they practiced to effect his ruin. If the first sense is preferred, David intimates that he had manifested a rare virtue, in continuing in the observance of God’s law, even when the wicked seemed to have involved him in their nets; but as it is more generally agreed that the verb עוד, ived, signifies to despoil or rob, let us adopt this interpretation — That the prophet being assailed by troops of the ungodly, and afterwards robbed and rifled at their pleasure, never deserted his ground. This was a proof of singular fortitude; for when we are exposed to dangers and wrongs of a more than ordinary kind, if God does not see our us we immediately begin to doubt of his providence: it seems to be of no advantage for a man to be godly; we imagine also that we may lawfully take revenge; and amidst these waves, the remembrance of the Divine law is easily lost, and, as it were, submerged. But the prophet assures us:, that to continue to love the law, and to practice righteousness, when we are exposed as a prey to the ungodly, and perceive no help from God, is an evidence of genuine piety.
62 I will rise at midnight to praise thee In this verse he shows not only that he approved and embraced with his whole heart whatever the Divine law contains, but that he also gave evidence of his gratitude to God for having made him partaker of so great a blessing. It seems to be quite a common thing professedly to assent to God when he teaches us by his law; for who would dare to lift up his voice against Him? But still the world is very far from acknowledging that the truth which he has revealed is in all respects reasonable. In the first place, such is the rebellion of our corrupt nature, that every man would have somewhat either altered or taken away. Again, if men had their choice, they would rather be governed by their own will than by the word of God. In short, human reason, as well as human passions, is widely at variance with the Divine law. He then has profited not little, who both obediently embraces revealed truth, and, taking sweet delight in it, gives thanks to God for it. The prophet, however, does not simply declare that he magnifies God’s righteous judgments; he also affirms that he rose at midnight to do so, by which he expresses the earnestness of his desire; for the studies and cares which break our sleep necessarily imply great earnestness of soul. He also, at the same time, intimates, that in bearing his testimony in behalf of the Divine law, he was far from being influenced by ostentation, since in his secret retirement, when no human eye was upon him, he pronounced the highest encomiums on God’s righteous judgments.
63. I am a companion to all those who fear thee He does not simply speak of the brotherly love and concord which true believers cultivate among themselves, but intimates that, whenever he met with any individual who feared God, he gave him his hand in token of fellowship, and that he was not only one of the number of God’s servants, but also their helper. Such concord is undoubtedly required in all the godly, that they may contribute to each other’s advancement in the fear of God. There seems to be a tacit comparison between this holy combination, by which the faithful mutually keep up and foster among themselves the worship of God and true godliness, and the impious associations which prevail every where in the world. We see how worldly men array their troops against God, and assist one another in their attempts to overthrow his worship. The more then is it necessary for the children of God to be stirred up to the maintenance of a holy unity. The Psalmist commends the faithful, first, for their fearing God, and, secondly, for their observing the law. The fear of God is the root or origin of all righteousness, and by dedicating our life to His service, we manifest that His fear dwells in our hearts.
64. O Jehovah! the earth is full of thy mercy Here the prophet beseeches God, in the exercise of his infinite goodness, which is reflected in every part of the world, graciously to make him a partaker of the treasure of heavenly wisdom — a manner of prayer which is very emphatic. When, therefore, he says that the earth is full of God’s mercy, it is a kind of earnest entreaty. He not only magnifies the goodness of God, in general, (as he does in other places,) in leaving no part of the world devoid of the proofs of his liberality, and in exercising it not only towards mankind, but also towards the brute creation. What does he then? He desires that the mercy of God, which is extended to all creatures, may be manifested towards him in one thing, and that is, by enabling him to make progress in the knowledge of the Divine law. Whence we gather, that he accounted the gift of understanding as an inestimable treasure. No if to be endued with the spirit of understanding is a chief token of God’s favor, our want of this, proceeding from our own unbelief, is an indication of our alienation from him. It behooves us to remember what we have stated elsewhere, that it is an evidence that we have given ourselves up to the most shameful sloth, when, contented with a superficial knowledge of Divine truth, we are, in a great measure, indifferent about making further progress, seeing so renowned a teacher of the Church labored with the greatest ardor to become more and more acquainted with God’s statutes. Besides, it is certain that he does not here treat of external teaching, but of the inward illumination of the mind, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The law was exhibited to all without distinction; but the prophet, well aware that unless he were enlightened by the Holy Spirit, it would be of little advantage to him, prays that he may be taught effectually by supernatural influence.
Psalm 119: 65-72
ט 65. O Jehovah! thou hast done good to thud servant, according to thy word. ט 66. Teach, thee goodness of taste and knowledge: for I have believed the commandments. ט 67. Before I was brought low I went astray: but now I keep thy word. ט 68. Thou art good, and doest good; teach me thy statutes. ט 69. The proud have weaved lies against me: but I will keel, thy statutes with my whole heart. ט 70. Their heart is fat as grease: but I delight in thy law. ט 71. It has been good for me that I was affected; that I might learn thy statutes. ט 72. The law of thy mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver.
65. O Jehovah! thou hast done good to thy servant. Some understand this generally, as if the prophet protested that, in whatever way God dealt with him, he took it in good part, convinced that it would ultimately issue in his welfare; but as express mention is made of the Divine word or promise, the prophet, I have no doubt, celebrates the faithfulness of God in performing the grace which he had promised. I have really experienced (as if he had said) that Thou art true, and dost not delude thy servants with empty words. Special reference is therefore here made to God’s promises, because thence all his benefits flow to us, not, indeed, as from the original fountain-head, but, as it were, by conduit pipes. Although his free goodness is the only cause which induces him to deal bountifully with us, yet we can hope for nothing at his hand until he first bring himself under obligation to us by his word.
66. Teach me goodness of taste and acknowledge After having confessed that he had found, by experience, the faithfulness of God to his promises, David here adds a request similar to what is contained in the 64th verse, namely, that he may grow in right understanding; although the phraseology is somewhat different; for instead of thy statutes, as in that verse, he here uses goodness of taste and knowledge. As the verb טעם taam, signifies to taste, the noun which is derived from it properly denotes taste It is, however, applied to the mind. David, there is no doubt, prays that knowledge, accompanied with sound discretion and judgment, might. be imparted to him. Those who read, disjunctively, goodness and taste, mar the whole sentence. It is, however, necessary, in order to our arriving at the full meaning, that the latter clause should be added. He asserts that he believed God’s commandments, in other words, that he cheerfully embraced whatever is prescribed in the law; and thus he describes himself as docile and obedient. As it was by the guidance of the Holy Spirit that he became thus inclined to obedience, he pleads that another gift may be bestowed upon him — the gift of a sound taste and good understanding. Whence we learn, that these two things, right affection and good understanding, are indispensably necessary to the due regulation of the life. The prophet already believed God’s commandments; but his veneration for the law, proceeding from a holly zeal, led him to desire conformity to it, and made him afraid, and not without cause, of inconsiderately going astray. Let us then learn, that after God has framed our hearts to the obedience of his law, we must, at the same time, ask wisdom from him by which to regulate our zeal.
67. Before I was brought low I went astray As the verb ענה anah, sometimes signifies to speak, or to testify, some adopt this rendering, Before I meditated upon thy statutes I went astray; but this seems too forced. Others go still farther from the meaning, in supposing it to be, that when the prophet went astray, he had nothing to say in answer to God. I will not stop to refute these conceits, there being no ambiguity in the words. David in his own person describes either that wantonness or rebellion, common to all mankind, which is displayed in this, that we never yield obedience to God until we are compelled by his chastisements. It is indeed a monstrous thing obstinately to refuse to submit ourselves to Him; and yet experience demonstrates, that so long as he deals gently with us, we are always breaking forth into insolence. Since even a prophet of God required to have his rebellion corrected by forcible means, this kind of discipline is assuredly most needful for us. The first step in obedience being the mortifying of the flesh, to which all men are naturally disinclined, it is not surprising if God bring us to a sense of our duty by manifold afflictions. Yea, rather as the flesh is from time to time obstreperous, even when it seems to be tamed, it is no wonder to find him repeatedly subjecting us anew to the rod. This is done in different ways. He humbles some by poverty, some by shame, some by diseases, some by domestic distresses, some by hard and painful labors; and thus, according to the diversity of vices to which we are prone, he applies to each its appropriate remedy. It is now obvious how profitable a truth this confession contains. The prophet speaks of himself even as Jeremiah, (Jer 31:18,) in like manner, says of himself, that he was “as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke;” but still he sets before us an image of the rebellion which is natural to us all. We are very ungrateful, indeed, if this fruit which we reap from chastisements do not assuage or mitigate their bitterness. So long as we are rebellious against God, we are, in a state of the deepest wretchedness: now, the only means by which He bends and tames us to obedience, is his instructing us by his chastisements. The prophet, at the same time, teaches us by his own example, that since God gives evidence of his willingness that we should become his disciples, by the pains he takes to subdue our hardness, we should at least endeavor to become gentle, and, laying aside all stubbornness, willingly bear the yoke which he imposes upon us.
The next verse needs no explanation, being nearly of the same import as the last verse of the former eight. He beseeches God to exercise his goodness towards him, not by causing him to increase in riches and honors, or to abound in pleasures, but by enabling him to make progress in the knowledge of the law. It is usual for almost all mankind to implore the exercise of God’s goodness towards them, and to desire that he would deal bountifully with them, in the way of gratifying the diversity of the desires into which they are severally hurried by the inclinations of the flesh; but David protests that he would be completely satisfied, provided he experienced God to be liberal towards him in this one particular, which almost all men pass over with disdain.
69. The proud have weaved 424 lies against me He declares that, notwithstanding the malignant interpretation which the wicked put upon all that he did, and their attempts, by this artifice, to turn him aside from following after and loving uprightness, the state of his mind remained unaltered. It is a severe temptation, when, although innocent, we are loaded with reproach and infamy, and are not only assailed by injurious words, but also held up to the odium of the world by wicked persons, under some specious pretense or other. We see many who otherwise are good people, and inclined to live uprightly, either become discouraged, or are greatly shaken, when they find themselves so unworthily rewarded. On this account the prophet’s example is the more to be attended t that we may not be appalled by the malignity of men; that we may not cease to nourish within us the fear of God, even when they may have succeeded in destroying our reputation in the sight of our fellow-creatures; and that we may be contented to have our piety shining at the judgment-scat of God, although it may be defaced by the calumnies of men. So long as we depend upon the judgment of men, we will always be in a state of fluctuation, as has been already observed. Farther, let our works be never so splendid, we know that they will be of no account in the sight of God, if, in performing them, our object is to gain the favor of the world. Let us therefore learn to cast our eyes to that heavenly stage, and to despise all the malicious reports which men may spread against us. Let us leave the children of this world to, enjoy their reward, since our crown is laid up for us in heaven, and not on the earth. Let us disentangle ourselves from the snares with which Satan endeavors to obstruct us, by patiently bearing infamy for a season. The verb טפל, taphal, which otherwise signifies to join together, is here, by an elegant metaphor, taken for to weave, or to trim; intimating that the enemies of the prophet not only loaded him with coarse reproaches, but also invented crimes against him, and did so with great cunning and color of truth, that he might seem to be the blackest of characters. But though they ceased not to weave for him this web, he was enabled to break through it by his invincible constancy; and, exercising a strict control over his heart, he continued faithfully to observe the law of God. He applies to them the appellation of proud; and the reason of this, it may be conjectured, is, that the persons of whom he speaks were not the common people, but great men, who inflated with confidence in their honors and riches, rose up against him with so much the more audacity. He evidently intimates that they trampled him under their feet by their proud disdain, just as if he had been a dead dog.
With this corresponds the statement in the subsequent verse (70th) that their heart is fat as grease, 425 — a vice too common among the despisers of God. Whence is it that wicked men, whom their own conscience gnaws within, vaunt themselves so insolently against the most eminent servants of God, but because a certain grossness overgrows their hearts, so that they are stupefied, and even frenzied by their own obstinacy? But wonderful and worthy of the highest praise is the magnanimity of the prophet, who found all his delight in the law of God: it is as if he declared that this was the food on which he fed, and with which he was refreshed in the highest degree; which could not have been the case had not his heart been freed, and thoroughly cleansed from all unhallowed pleasures.
71. It has been good for me that I was afflicted. He here confirms the sentiment which we have previously considered — that it was profitable to him to be subdued by God’s chastisements, that he might more and more be brought back and softened to obedience. By these words he confesses that he was not exempt from the perverse obstinacy with which all mankind are infected; for, had it been otherwise with him, the profit of which he speaks, when he says that his docility was owing to his being brought low, would have been merely pretended; even as none of us willingly submits his neck to God, until He soften our natural hardness by the strokes of a hammer. It is good for us to taste continually the fruit which comes to us from God’s corrections, that they may become sweet to us; and that, in this way, we, who are so rebellious and wayward, may suffer ourselves to be brought into subjection.
The last verse also requires no exposition, as it contains a sentiment of very frequent occurrence in this psalm, and, in itself, sufficiently plain, — That he preferred God’s law to all the riches of the world, the immoderate desire of which so deplorably infatuates the great bulk of mankind. He does not compare the law of God with the riches he himself possessed; but he affirms, that it was more precious in his estimation than a vast inheritance.
י 73. Thy hands have made and fashioned me: make me to understand, that I may learn thy commandments. י 74. They who fear thee shall see me and be glad; because I have hoped in thy word. י 75. I have known, O Jehovah! That thy judgments are justice; and thou hast humbled me in truth. י 76. I beseech thee let thy goodness be for my consolation, according to thy word to thy servant. י 77. Let thy compassion’s come unto me, and let me live: for thy law is my delight. י 78. Let the proud be put to shame; for they have falsely endeavored to pervert me: I will meditate on thy precepts. י 79. Let such as fear thee turn unto me, and those who have known thy testimonies. י 80. Let my heart be sound in thy statutes; that I may not be put to shame.
73. Thy hands have made and fashioned me. The avowal of the prophet, that he had been created by the hand of God, greatly contributed to inspire him with the hope of obtaining the favor which he supplicates. As we are the creatures and the workmanship of God, and as he has not only bestowed upon us vital motion, in common with the lower animals, but has, in addition thereto, given us the light of understanding and reasons — this encourages us to pray that he would direct us to the obedience of his law. And yet the prophet does not call upon God, as if He were under any obligations to him; but, knowing that God never forsakes the work which he has begun, he simply asks for new grace, by which God may carry on to perfection what he has commenced. We have need of the assistance of the law, since all that is sound in our understandings is corrupted; so that we cannot perceive what is right, unless we are taught from some other source. But our blindness and stupidity are still more strikingly manifest, from the fact that teaching will avail us nothing, until our souls are renewed by Divine grace. What I have previously said must be borne in mind.. That whenever the prophet prays for understanding being imparted to him, in order to his learning the Divine commandments, he condemns both himself and all mankind as in a state of blindness; for which the only remedy is the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
74. They who fear thee shall see me and be glad. This verse is either connected with the preceding, or it includes other benefits of God, besides the blessing mentioned in that verse. Whether the Psalmist adverts only to one particular species of blessing, or speaks generally, he by these words highly extols the benefits with which God had honored him, that all genuine saints in common might experience joy on that account. He does not mean to say that this joy proceeds solely from the trust which he reposed in God, but that it also proceeds from this, — that, having been preserved by him in a remarkable way, and loaded with many benefits, his hope had received an ample reward. As God invites all his servants in common to trust in him, it follows, that, whenever he exhibits a token of his grace towards any one of them, he testifies to all that he is faithful to his promises, and that they have no reason to be afraid of his disappointing those who trust in him.
75 I have known, O Jehovah / that thy judgments are justice. By judgments, in this psalm, we are to understand the precepts of the law; but as the prophet immediately adds, that he was justly chastised, he seems to use the word in this verse, for the punishments by which God stirs up men to repentance. These two words, צדק, tsedek, justice, in the first clause, and אמונה emunah truth, in the last, have here nearly the same signification. In the first clause, the prophet confesses in general that God so regulates his judgments, as to shut the mouths of the ungodly, should any of them complain of his cruelty or rigor; and that such equity shines forth in them, as to extort from us the confession that nothing is better for men than in this way to be called back to the consideration of themselves. He next exhibits an example of this in his own person. Even hypocrites sometimes yield God the praise of justice when he chastises others, and they never condemn his severity, so long as they themselves are spared. But it is the property of true piety to be less austere and rigid censors of the faults of others than of our own. The knowledge of which the prophet speaks, is a sure evidence of his having made a strict and earnest examination of himself; for, had he not well weighed his own guilt, he could not by assured experience have learned the righteousness of God in his afflictions. If it is considered preferable to take the word judgments in its usual acceptation, the meaning of the text will be: Lord, I know that thy law is holy and just, and severely as thou hast afflicted me, I still retain the persuasion of this truth; for even in my afflictions I discern the righteousness, which corresponds with the character of thy word.
76 I beseech thee let thy goodness be for my consolation. Although he has acknowledged that he had been justly humbled, yet he desires that his sorrow may be alleviated by some consolation. He implores God’s mercy, as what was essentially necessary to relieve and cure his miseries. He thus shows that nothing can remove sorrow from the faithful, until they feel that God is reconciled to them. In the Word in which God offers his mercy, there is to be found no small comfort for healing all the grief to which men are liable. But the Psalmist is now speaking of actual mercy, if I may use that term, when God by the very deed declares the favor which he has promised. Confiding in the Divine promise, he already cherished in his heart a joy, proceeding from the hope of receiving the communications of Divine grace. But as all our hope would end in mere disappointment, did not God at length appear as our deliverer, he requests the performance of that which God had promised him. Lord, as if he had said, since thou hast graciously promised to be ready to succor me, be pleased to make good thy word in effect. The observation which I have previously made ought to be remembered, That it is not in vain to remind God of his promise. It would be presumption for men to come into His presence, did he not, of his own mere good pleasure, open up the way for them. When the Psalmist says, to thy servant, he does not claim God’s mercy exclusively to himself, as if it had. been promised to him alone by some special oracle; but he applies to himself what God has promised to the whole Church, which it is the peculiar province of faith to do; for unless I believe that I am one of those to whom God addresses himself in his word, so that his promises belong to me in common with others, I will never have the confidence to call upon him.
77. Let thy companions come unto me. In this verse, the Psalmist repeats and confirms almost the same request as in the preceding verse, although in phraseology somewhat different. As he had just now said, that his sorrow could not be removed, nor his joy restored, in any other way than by God’s mercy being exercised towards him; so now he affirms that he cannot have without being reconciled to God. He thus distinguishes himself from worldly men, who are very little affected with a concern about having God reconciled to them; or, rather, who do not cease securely to enjoy themselves, although God is angry with them. He distinctly affirms, that, until he know that God is reconciled to him, he is a dead man even while living; but that, on the other hand, whenever God shall cause his mercy to shine upon him, he will be restored from death to life. By the way, he intimates that he was deprived for a time of the tokens of God’s fatherly favor; for it would have been needless for him to have wished that it might come to him, had it not been removed from him. As an argument for obtaining what he supplicates, he asserts that the law of God was his delight; nor could he otherwise hope that God would be merciful to him. Besides, no man truly feels what virtue is in the Divine favor, but he who, placing his chief happiness in that alone, is convinced that all who dissever themselves from God are miserable and accursed; a truth which the prophet had learned from the law.
78. Let the proud be put to shame. We have already often had occasion to remark, that, in the Hebrew language, the future tense is frequently used in the sense of the optative mood, as here, — They shall be put to shame, for, Let them be put to shame. Still it would not be unsuitable to explain the meaning thus’ As the proud have dealt mischievously with me, and molested me without a cause, the Lord will give them their reward. But as almost all interpreters are agreed that this is a prayer, in the translation of the verse I am unwilling to depart from the generally received explanation, especially as the language is expressly addressed to God himself. It is important to attend to the reason why the Psalmist hopes that God will be an enemy to his enemies; namely, because they wickedly and maliciously assaulted him. The word שקר, sheker, which I have rendered falsely, is by some translated, without a cause; but they seem only to hit upon the one half of the prophet’s meaning; for this word, in my opinion, is to be referred to the stratagems and artifices by which the wicked endeavored to destroy David. Whence we gather, that whenever we are wrongfully persecuted by wicked men, we are invited to have recourse directly to God for protection. At the same time, we are taught that we have no reason to be abashed at their insolence; for, whatever power they may arrogate to themselves, He will beat down their loftiness, and lay it low, to their shame; so that, being confounded, they will serve as an example, to teach others that nothing is more ridiculous than to sing the song of triumph before the victory is gained. The verb אשיח, asiach, in the second clause of the verse, may be rendered, I will speak of, as well as I will meditate upon; implying, that, when he had obtained the victory, he would proclaim the goodness of God, which he had experienced. To speak of God’s statutes, is equivalent to declaring out of the law, how faithfully he guards his saints, how securely he delivers them, and how righteously he avenges their wrongs.
79. Let such as fear thee turn unto me. In this verse, which is connected with the preceding, the Psalmist affirms, that the deliverance which he obtained would afford common instruction to all the godly. My condition, as if he had said, may, for a time, have disheartened the righteous, as well as increased the insolence of my enemies; but now, taking courage, they will turn their eyes to this joyful spectacle. Moreover, let us learn from the two marks, by which he distinguishes true believers, what is the nature of genuine godliness. He puts the fear, or the reverence of God, in the first, place; but he immediately joins to it the knowledge of Divine truth, to teach us that these two things are inseparably connected. The superstitious, indeed, exhibit a fear of God of a certain kind, but it is a mere show, which quickly vanishes. Besides, they weary themselves in their own inventions to no purpose; for God will take no account of any other services, but those which are performed in obedience to his commandments. True religion, then, and the worship of God, have their origin in faith — in the faith of what he has enjoined; so that no person can serve God aright, but he who has been taught in His school.
80. Let my heart be sound in thy statutes Having, a little before, desired to be endued with a sound understanding, he now prays, in a similar manner, for sincere affection of heart. The understanding and affections, as is well known, are the two principal faculties of the human soul, both of which he clearly shows to be depraved and perverse, when he requests that his understanding may be illuminated, and, at the same time, that his heart may be framed to the obedience of the law. This plainly refutes all that the Papists babble about free will. The prophet not only here prays that God would help him, because his will was weak; but he testifies, without qualification, that uprightness of heart is. the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are, moreover, taught by these words, in what the true keeping of the law consists. A great part of mankind, after having carelessly framed their life according to the Divine law, by outward obedience, think that they want nothing. But the Holy Spirit here declares that no service is acceptable to God, except that which proceeds from integrity of heart. As to the word, תמים, thamim, rendered sound, we have elsewhere said, that a sound heart is set in opposition to a double or deceitful heart. It is as if the prophet had said, that those who are without dissimulation, and who offer to God a pure heart, yield themselves truly to Him. When it is added, that I may not be put to shame, it is intimated, that such shall be the undoubted issue as to all the proud, who, disdaining the grace of God, lean upon their own strength; and as to all hypocrites, who, for a time, parade themselves in gay colors. The amount, then, is, that unless God govern us by his Spirit, and keep us in the performance of our duty, so that our hearts may be sound in his statutes, although our shame may be hidden for a time, yea, although all men should praise us, and hold us in admiration, yet we cannot avoid falling, at length, into dishonor and ignominy.
כ 81. My soul hath fainted for thy salvation: I hope in thy word. כ 82. My eyes have waxed dim in looking for thy promise, and I say, When wilt thou comfort me? כ 83. For I have been as a bottle in the smoke; and yet I have not forgotten thy statutes. כ 84. How many are the days of thy servant? when wilt thou execute judgment on my persecutors? כ 85. The proud have digged pits for me, which thing is not according to thy law. כ 86. All thy commandments are truth; they persecute we deceitfully; therefore help thou me. כ 87. They have almost consumed me upon the earth; yet I have not forsaken thy statutes. כ 88. Quicken me according to thy goodness; and I will keep the testimony of thy mouth.
81. My soul hath fainted for thy salvation. The Psalmist intimates that, although worn out with continual grief, and perceiving no issue to his calamities, yet trouble and weariness had not produced such a discouraging effect upon his mind, as to prevent him from always reposing with confidence in God. To bring out the meaning the more distinctly, we must begin at the second clause, which is obviously added by way of exposition. There he affirms that he trusts in God; and this is the foundation of all. But, intending to express the invincible constancy of his trust, he tells us that he patiently endured all the distresses, under which others succumb. We see some embracing with great eagerness the promises of God; but their ardor, within a short time, vanishes; or, at least, is quenched by adversity. It was far otherwise with David. The verb כלה, kalah, which signifies to faint, or to be consumed, seems, indeed, at first sight, to convey a different meaning. But the prophet, in this passage, as in other places, by fainting means that patience, which those who are deprived of all strength, and who seem to be already dead, continue to cherish, and which inspires their hearts with secret groanings, and such as cannot be uttered. This fainting, then, is opposed to the delicacy of those who cannot suffer a long delay.
82 My eyes have waxed dim in looking for thy word This verse is very similar to the preceding, — transforming to the eyes what had been said before concerning the soul. The only difference is, that, instead of longing after salvation or help, the expression, longing after God’s word compromise, is here used; for salvation is an act, as it is termed; that is to say, it consists in effect, whereas a promise keeps us suspended in expectation. God may not, all at once, openly perform what he has promised; and, in this case, it being only in his word that he promises us help, there is no other way by which we can hope for help, than by our reposing on his word. As, then, the word precedes, in order, the help which God affords, or, rather, as it is the manner in which it is represented to our view, the prophet, when sighing after salvation, very properly declares that he kept his eyes fixed on the Divine word, until his sight failed him. Here we have presented to us the wonderful and incredible power of patience, under the infirmity of the flesh, when, being faint and deprived of all rigor, we have recourse to God for help, even while it is hidden from us. In short, the prophet, to prevent it from being supposed that he was too effeminate and faint-hearted, intimates that his fainting was not without cause. In asking God, When wilt thou comfort me? he shows, with sufficient plainness, that he was for a long time, as it were, cast off and forsaken.
83. For I have been as a bottle in the smoke. 426 The particle כי, ki, translated for, might also, not improperly, be resolved into the adverb of time, when; so that we might read the verse in one connected sentence, thus’ When I was like a dried bottle, I, nevertheless, did not forget thy law. The obvious design of the Psalmist is to teach us, that, although he had been proved by severe trials, and wounded to the quick, he yet had not been withdrawn from the fear of God. In comparing himself to a bottle or bladder, he intimates that he was, as it were, parched by the continual heat of adversities. Whence we learn, that that sorrow must have been intense which reduced him to such a state of wretchedness and emaciation, that like a shriveled bottle he was almost dried up. It, however, appears that he intends to point cut, not only the severity of his affliction, but also its lingering nature that he was tormented, as it were, at a slow fire; 427 even as the smoke which proceeds from heat dries bladders by slow degrees. The prophet experienced a long series of grief’s, which might have consumed him a hundred times, and that, by their protracted and lingering nature, had he not been sustained by the word of God. In short, it is a genuine evidence of true godliness, when, although plunged into the deepest afflictions, we yet cease not to submit ourselves to God.
84. How many are the days of thy servant? etc. Some read these two clauses apart, as if the first were a general complaint of the brevity of human life, such as is to be met with in other psalms, and more frequently in the book of Job; and next, in their opinion, there follows a special prayer of the Psalmist, that God would take vengeance upon his enemies. But I rather prefer joining the two clauses together, and limit both to David’s afflictions; as if it had been said, Lord, how long hast thou determined to abandon thy servant to the will of the ungodly? when wilt thou set thyself in opposition to their cruelty and outrage, in order to take vengeance upon them? The Scriptures often use the word days in this sense; as, for example, “the days of Egypt,” Eze 30:9; “the days of Babylon,” and “the days of Jerusalem,” Ps 137:7; a word which, in other places, is called “the day of visitation,” Isa 10:3. By the use of the plural number, is denoted a certain determinate portion of time, which, in other places, is compared to the “days of an hireling,” Job 14:6; Isa 16:14. The Psalmist does not, then, bewail in general the transitory life of man, but he complains that the time of his state of warfare in this world had been too long protracted; and, therefore, he naturally desires that it might be brought to a termination. In expostulating with God about his trouble, he does not do so obstinately, or with a murmuring spirit; but still, in asking how long it will be necessary for him to suffer, he humbly prays that God would not delay to succor him. As to the point of his stirring him up by prayer to execute vengeance, we have elsewhere seen in what sense it was lawful for him to make such a request; namely, because the vengeance which he desired to see was such as is properly suitable to God. It is certain that he had divested himself of all the corrupt affections of the flesh, that he might, with a pure and undisturbed zeal, desire God’s judgment. He, however, in this passage, only wishes in general to be delivered by the hand of God from the wrongs which were inflicted upon him, without adjudging to perdition his adversaries; for he was quite contented, provided God appeared to defend him.
85 The proud 428 have digged pits for me. He complains that he had been circumvented by the frauds and artifices of his enemies; as if he had said, They have not only endeavored to injure me by open force and the violence of the sword, but have also maliciously sought to destroy me by snares and secret arts. The additional clause, which thing is not according to thy Law, is introduced as an argument, to excite God to exercise his mercy; for he is the more inclined to succor his servants, when he sees that the attempts made upon their welfare involve the violation of his own Law. At the same time, the Psalmist furnishes a proof of his own innocence, intimating that he had deserved no such treatment at their hands, and that whatever they practiced, he, notwithstanding, patiently kept himself under restraint; not attempting any thing which he knew to be contrary to the Divine Law.
86. All thy commandments are truth. In this verse he again confirms the statement, That, in whatever ways he was afflicted, his mind had not been distracted by various devices, because, trusting in the word of God, he never doubted of his assistance. In the first place, he tells us, that the consideration, by which he was armed for repelling all assaults, was this, That the faithful, under the conduct of God, engage in a prosperous warfare, the salvation which they hope for from his word being absolutely certain. For this reason he declares, that the commandments of God are true; by which encomium he teaches us, that those who rely upon the word of God are out of all danger; and he lays down this truth, that such a support may always sustain our courage. In the second place, he complains of the treachery of his enemies, as he declared before. Here the word שקר, sheker, is repeated, by which he means, that they had no regard to equity. From this consideration also he was led to entertain the hope of deliverance; for it is the peculiar office of God to succor the poor and afflicted who are wrongfully oppressed.
87. They have almost consumed me upon the earth. He repeats, in somewhat different words, what he had spoken a little before, that, although he had been sorely tempted, he had nevertheless kept his footing, because he had not given up with true religion. A single declaration of this fact would have been enough for those who are perfect; but if we call to mind our own weakness, we will readily confess that it was not unworthy of being repeatedly stated. We not only forget the law of God when we are shaken by extreme conflicts, but the greater part lose their courage even before they engage in the conflict. On which account this wonderful strength of the prophet is worthy of more special notice, who, although almost reduced to death, yet never ceased to revive his courage by continual meditation on the law. Nor is it in vain that he adds, that it was upon the earth that his enemies had almost consumed him, conveying the idea, that, when the fears of death presented themselves to him on all sides in this world, he elevated his mind above the world. If faith reach to heaven, it will be an easy matter to emerge from despair.
88. Quicken me according to thy goodness This verse contains nothing new. In the beginning of it David represents his life as depending on God’s mercy, not only because he was conscious of human frailty, but because he saw himself daily exposed to death in multiplied forms, or rather because he was convinced, that were God’s power withdrawn from him, he would be laid prostrate as if he were dead. He next promises, that when he shall be again restored to life, he will not be ungrateful, but will duly acknowledge this as a blessing from God, and that not only with the tongue, but also in his whole life. As the various instances in which God succors us and delivers us from dangers are so many new lives, it is reasonable that we should dedicate to his service whatever additional time is allotted to us in this world. When the law is called the testimony of God’s mouth, by this eulogium its authority is very plainly asserted.
ל 89. Thy word, O Jehovah! endureth for ever in heaven. ל 90. Thy truth is from generation to generation: thou hast, established the earth, and it abideth. ל 91. By thy judgments they continue to this day; for all are thy servants. ל 92. Had not thy law been my delight, I had then perished in my affliction. ל 93. I will never forget thy statutes, for thou hast quickened me in them. ל 94. I am thine, save me; for I have sought thy statutes. ל 95. The wicked wait for me to destroy me: but I consider thy testimonies. ל 96. In all perfection I have see, the end: thy commandment is exceeding broad.
89 Thy word, O Jehovah I endure for ever. Many explain this verse as if David adduced the stability of the heavens as a proof of God’s truth. According to them the meaning is, that God is proved to be true because the heavens continually remain in the same state. 429 Others offer a still more forced interpretation, That God’s truth is more sure than the state of the heavens. But it appears to me that the prophet intended to convey a very different idea. As we see nothing constant or of long continuance upon earth, he elevates our minds to heaven, that they may fix their anchor there. David, no doubt, might have said, as he has done in many other places, that the whole order of the world bears testimony to the steadfastness of God’s word — that word which is most true. But as there is reason to fear that the minds of the godly would hang in uncertainty if they rested the proof of God’s truth upon the state of the world, in which such manifold disorders prevail; by placing God’s truth in the heavens, he allots to it a habitation subject to no changes. That no person then may estimate God’s word from the various vicissitudes which meet his eye in this world, heaven is tacitly set in opposition to the earth. Our salvation, as if it had been said, being shut up in God’s word, is not subject to change, as all earthly things are, but is anchored in a safe and peaceful haven. The same truth the Prophet Isaiah teaches in somewhat different words:
“All flesh is grass, and all the godliness thereof is as the flower of the field,” (Isa 40:6.)
He means, according to the Apostle Peter’s exposition, (1Pe 1:24) that the certainty of salvation is to be sought in the word, and, therefor that they do wrong who settle their minds upon the world; for the steadfastness of God’s word far transcends the stability of the world.
90. Thy truth is from generation to generation In this verse the Psalmist repeats and confirms the same sentiment. He expressly teaches, that although the faithful live for a short time as strangers upon earth, and soon pass away, yet their life is not perishable, since they are begotten again of an incorruptible seed. He, however, proceeds still farther. He had before enjoined us to pierce by faith into heaven, because we will find nothing in the world on which we can assuredly rest; and now he again teaches us, by experience, that though the world is subject to revolutions, yet in it bright and signal testimonies to the truth of God shine forth, so that the steadfastness of his word is not exclusively confined to heaven, but comes down even to us who dwell upon the earth. For this reason, it is added, that the earth continues steadfast, even as it was established by God at the beginning. Lord, as if it had been said, even in the earth we see thy truth reflected as it were in a mirror; for though it is suspended in the midst of the sea, yet it continues to remain in the same state. These two things, then, are quite consistent; first, that the steadfastness of God’s word is not to be judged of according to the condition of the world, which is always fluctuating, and fades away as a shadow; and, secondly, that yet men are ungrateful if they do not acknowledge the constancy which in many respects marks the frame. work of the world; for the earth, which otherwise could not occupy the position it does for a single moment, abides notwithstanding steadfast, because God’s word is the foundation on which it rests. Farther, no person has any ground for objecting, that it is a hard thing to go beyond this world in quest of the evidences of God’s truth, since, in that case, it would be too remote from the apprehension of men. The prophet meets the objection by affirming, that although it dwells in heaven, yet we may see at our very feet conspicuous proofs of it, which may gradually advance us to as perfect knowledge of it as our limited capacity will permit. Thus the prophet, on the one hand, exhorts us to rise above the whole world by faith, so that the word of God may be found by experience to be adequate, as it really is adequate, to sustain our faith; and, on the other hand, he warns us that we have no excuse, if, by the very sight of the earth, we do not discover the truth of God, since legible traces of it are to be found at our feet. In the first clause, men are called back from the vanity of their own understanding; and, in the other; their weakness is relieved, that they may have a foretaste upon earth of what is to be found more fully in heaven.
91. By thy judgments they continue to this day. The word, היום, hayom, which, following other interpreters, I have translated to this days might not improperly rendered daily, or every day. In that case, however, the sense would be substantially the same; for the prophet means, that the whole order of nature depends solely upon the commandment or decree of God. In using the term judgments, he makes an allusion to the law, intimating, that the same regard to rectitude which is exhibited in the law is brightly displayed in every part; of God’s procedure. From this it follows, that men are very perverse, when, by their unbelief, they do what they can to shake and impair the faithfulness of God, upon which all creatures repose; and, moreover, when by their rebellion they impeach his righteousness, and deny the authority of his commands, upon which the stability of the whole world depends. It is a harsh manner of expression to say, that all the elements are God’s servants; but it expresses more than if it had been said, that all things are ready to yield obedience to him. How can we account for it, that the air, which is so thin, does not consume itself by blowing incessantly? How can we account for it, that the waters do not waste away by flowing, but on the principle that these elements obey the secret command of God? By faith, it is true, we perceive that the continued existence of the world is owing to the fiat of God; but all who have the smallest pretensions to understanding are led to the same conclusion, from the manifest and undoubted proofs of this truth, which every where meet their eye. Let it then be thoroughly impressed upon our minds, that all things are so governed and maintained by the secret operation of God, as that their continuing in the same state is owing to their obeying his commandment or word. We must always remember the point which the prophet aims at; which is, that God’s faithfulness, which shines forth in his external works, may gradually conduct us higher, until we attain such a persuasion of the truth of heavenly doctrine as is entirely free from doubt.
92. Had not thy law been my delight The prophet continues to prosecute almost the same theme; affirming, that he would have been undone, had he not in his calamities sought consolation from the law of God. The adverb, אז az, signifies then; but as it is sometimes used for a long time, it is equivalent here to long ago; unless some may prefer to consider it as a significant and emphatic pointing to the thing, as if he were still in the state which he describes. He confirms from his own experience what he had previously said, to make it manifest that he did not speak of things with which he was unacquainted, but that he asserts what he had really experienced, — namely, that there is no other solace, and no other remedy for adversity, but our reposing upon the word of God, and our embracing the grace and the assurance of our salvation which are offered in it. He here unquestionably commends the very same word, which he had but now said dwelt in heaven. Though it resound on earth, enter into our ears, and settle in our hearts, yet it still retains its celestial nature; for it descends to us in such a manner, as that it is not subject to the changes of the world. The prophet declares that he was grievously oppressed by a weight of afflictions enough to overwhelm him; but that the consolation which he derived from the Divine Law in such desperate circumstances, was as life to him.
93. I will never forget thy statutes. This verse contains a thanksgiving. As the law of the Lord had preserved him, he engages that he will never forget it. Yet he, at the same time, admonishes himself and others how necessary it is to cherish in the heart the remembrance of the Divine Law; for though we have found from experience its life-giving power, yet we easily allow it to pass from our memories, and on this account God afterwards justly punishes us, by leaving us for a long time to languish in our sadness.
94. I am thine, save me. In the first place, he takes encouragement to pray from the consideration, that he is one of God’s own stamp and coinage, as we speak. In the second place, he proves that he is God’s from the fact of his keeping his commandments. This ought not, however, to be understood as if he boasted of any merit which he possessed; as, in dealing with men, it is customary to adduce something meritorious which we have done as an argument for obtaining what we desire: — I have always loved and esteemed you, I have always studied to promote your honor and advantage; my service has always been ready at your command. But David rather brings forward the unmerited grace of God, and that alone; for no man, by any efforts of his own, acquires the high honor of being under the protection of God — an honor which proceeds solely from his free adoption. The blessing which God had conferred upon him is therefore here adduced as an argument why he should not forsake the work which he had commenced. When he affirms, that he was earnestly intent upon the Divine commandments, that also depended upon the Divine calling; for he did not begin to apply his mind to God’s commandments before he was called and received into his household. As he desires, in this verse, that the Lord would save him, so, in the next verse, he expresses the need he had of being saved, saying, that the wicked sought for him to destroy him; by which he, at the same time, declares the constancy of his godliness, inasmuch as he then set his mind upon the law of God — a point worthy of special notice. Those who, at other times, would the forward and willing to follow God, know not to what side to turn themselves when they are assailed by the wicked, and, in that case, are very prone to follow unhallowed counsel. It is therefore a great virtue to do God the honor of resting contented with his promises alone, when the wicked conspire for our destruction, and when, to all human appearance, our life is in jeopardy. To consider God’s testimonies is, in this place, equivalent to applying our minds to the word of God, which sustains us against all assaults, effectually allays all fears, and restrains us from following any perverse counsels.
96. In all perfection, I have seen the end. 430 The prophet again, using other words, commends the same truth which he had taught in the first verse of this part — that the word of God is not subject to change, because it is elevated far above the perishable elements of this world. He here asserts, that there is nothing under heaven so perfect and stable, or so complete, in all respects, as not to have an end; and that the Divine word alone possesses such amplitude as to surpass all bounds and limits. Since the verb כלה kalah, signifies to consume and finish, as well as to make perfect, some take the noun תכלה tichelah, for measure or end But it is necessary to translate it perfection, that the comparison may be the more apparent, and the better to amplify the faithfulness of the Divine word; the idea which the prophet intended to convey being, that, after he had considered all things, especially those which are distinguished by the greatest perfection, he found that they were nothing when compared with God’s word, inasmuch as all other things will soon come to an end, whereas the word of God stands ever firm in its own eternity. 431 Whence it follows, that we have no ground for apprehending that it will forsake us in the midst of our course.. It is termed broad, to denote that, though a man may mount above the heavens, or descend into the lowest depths, or traverse the whole space from the right to the left hand, yet he will not reach farther than the truth of God conducts us. It remains that our minds should embrace this vast extent; and such will be the case when they shall have ceased to enclose and shut themselves up within the narrow limits of this world.
מ 97. O how have I loved thy law! it is my meditation all the day. מ 98. Thou hast made me wiser than my adversaries by thy commandments: for they are ever with me. מ 99. Thou hast made me to know more than all my teachers; for thy testimonies are my meditation. מ 100. I excelled the aged in understanding; for I have kept thy statutes. מ 101. I have restrained my feet from every evil path, that it may keep thy word. מ 102. I have not declined from thy judgments; for thou hast taught me. מ 103. O how sweet/save been thy words to my palate! sweeter than honey to my mouth! מ 104. By thy statutes I have acquired understanding; therefore I have hated every false way.
97. O how have I loved thy law! Not contented with a simple affirmation, the prophet exclaims, by way of interrogation, that he was inflamed with incredible love to the law of God; and, in proof of this, he adds, that he was continually engaged in meditating upon it. If any person boasts that he loves the Divine Law, and yet neglects the study of it, and applies his mind to other things, he betrays the grossest hypocrisy; for the love of the law, and especially such an ardent love of it as the prophet here expresses, always produces continual meditation upon it. And, assuredly, unless God’s law inflame and ravish our hearts with the love of it, many allurements will quickly steal upon us, and lead us away to vanity. The prophet, then, here commends such a love of the law, as, possessing all our senses, effectually excludes all the deceits and corruption’s to which we are otherwise too much inclined.
98. Thou hast made me wiser than my adversaries He here declares, that he was more learned than his adversaries, his instructors, and the aged, because he was a scholar of God’s law. It is in a different sense that he describes himself as endued with understanding above his adversaries, from that in which he describes himself as wiser than his teachers. He surpassed his enemies, because their cunning and artifices availed them nothing when they employed these to the utmost to effect his destruction. The malice of the wicked is always goading them to do mischief; and as they are often artful and deceitful, we are afraid lest our simplicity should be imposed upon by their deceits, unless we use the same crafts and underhand dealings which they practice. Accordingly, the prophet glories, that he found in God’s law enough to enable him to escape all their snares. When he claims the credit of being superior in knowledge to his instructors, he does not mean to deny that they also had learned from the word of God what was useful to be known. But he gives God thanks for enabling him to surpass, in proficiency, those from whom he had learned the first elements of knowledge. 432 Nor is it any new thing for the scholar to excel his master, according as God distributes to each man the measure of understanding. The faithful, it is true, are instructed by the pains and labor of men, but it is in such a way, as that God is still to be regarded as enlightening them. And it is owing to this that the scholar surpasses the master; for God means to show as it were, with the finger, that he uses the service of men in such a way as that he himself continues still the chief teacher. Let us therefore learn to commit ourselves to his tuition, that we may glory with David, that by his guidance we have proceeded farther than man’s instruction could lead us. He adds the same thing respecting the aged, for the more abundant confirmation of his statement. Age is of great avail in polishing, by long experience and practice, men who, by nature, are dull and rude. Now the prophet asserts, that he had acquired, by the Divine Law, more discretion than belongs to aged men. 433 In short, he means to affirm, that whoever yields himself with docility to God, keeps his thoughts in subjection to his word, and exercises himself diligently in meditating upon the Law, will thence derive wisdom sufficient for enabling him to consult his own safety in opposition to the stratagems of his enemies, to exercise circumspection requisite for escaping their deceits; and, finally, to match with the most eminent masters through the whole course of his life. David, however, does not adduce his wisdom, that he may boast of it before the world; but, by his own example, he warns us, that nothing is better for us than to learn at God’s mouth, since those only are perfectly wise who are taught in his school. At the same time, sobriety is here enjoined upon the faithful, that they may not seek for wisdom elsewhere than from God’s word, and that ambition or curiosity may not incite them to vain boasting. In short, all are here recommended to behave themselves with modesty and humility, that no man may claim to himself such knowledge as elevates him above the Divine Law; but that all men, however intelligent, may willingly yield themselves to the lessons of heavenly wisdom revealed in the Divine Word. When he says, that he kept God’s statutes, he teaches us what kind of meditation it is of which we have spoken, to let us know that he did not coldly philosophies upon God’s precepts, but devoted himself to them with earnest affection.
101. I have restrained my feet from every evil path He intimates that he proclaimed war against every vice, that he might wholly devote himself to the service of God. From this we learn the profitable lesson, that in order to our keeping God’s Law, we must, from the commencement, beware lest our feet should step aside into crooked by-paths; for with a nature so corrupted as ours is, amidst so many allurements, and with minds so fickle, we are in the greatest danger of being led astray; yea, it is a rare miracle if any man hold on in his life in a right course, without turning aside in one direction or another. The faithful, therefore, have need to exercise the greatest circumspection, in order to keep their feet from going astray.
In the next verse, David commends his own constancy in observing the Law. He declares that ever since he had learned from God the right manner of living, he had pursued the right course. As the way is so slippery, and our feet so feeble, and our whole disposition so prone to go astray after innumerable errors, no small exertions are requisite on our part, in order to avoid declining from God’s judgments. But we must attend to the manner of teaching to which the Psalmist refers; for though all, without exception, to whom God’s word is preached, are taught, yet scarce one in ten so much as tastes it; yea, scarce one in a hundred profits to the extent of being enabled, thereby, to proceed in a right course to the end. A peculiar manner of teaching is, therefore, here pointed out — that which consists in God’s drawing his chosen people to himself. I have been brought, as if the Psalmist had said, into the way of salvation, and preserved in it by the secret influence of the Holy Spirit.
103. O how sweet have been thy words to my palate! He again repeats what he had previously stated in different words, that he was so powerfully attracted by the sweetness of the Divine Law, as to have no desire after any other delight. It is possible that a man may be affected with reverence towards the Law of God; but no one will cheerfully follow it, save he who has tasted this sweetness. God requires from us no slavish service: he will have us to come to him cheerfully, and this is the very reason why the prophet commends the sweetness of God’s word so often in this psalm. If it is demanded in what sense he declares that he took such sweet delight in God’s Law, which, according to the testimony of Paul, (1Co 3:9,) does nothing else but strike fear into men, the solution is easy: The prophet does not speak of the dead letter which kills those who read it, but he comprehends the whole doctrine of the Law, the chief part of which is the free covenant of salvation. When Paul contrasts the Law with the Gospel, he speaks only of the commandments and threatening. Now if God were only to command, and to denounce the curse, the whole of his communication would, undoubtedly, be deadly. But the prophet is not here opposing the Law to the Gospel; and, therefore, he could affirm that the grace of adoption, which is offered in the Law, was sweeter to him than honey; that is to say, that no delight was to him equal to this. What I have previously said must be remembered, that the Law of God will be unsavory to us, or, at least, that it will never be so sweet to us, as to withdraw us from the pleasures of the flesh, until we have struggled manfully against our own nature, in order to subdue the carnal affections which prevail within us.
104 By thy statutes I have acquired understanding The prophet seems here to invert the order he has just now laid down. He observed that he had kept his feet from going astray, that he might observe God’s Law, and now he institutes a contrary order, beginning with the observance of the Law; for he declares that he had been taught by the word of God before he amended his faults. Yet these two things are not inconsistent, — that the faithful should withdraw themselves from their wanderings, in order to frame their life according to the rule of God’s word, and that when they are already advanced a considerable way in a holy life, the fear of God being then more vigorous in them, they should regard all vices with more intense hatred. The beginning of a good life, unquestionably, is when a man endeavors to purge himself from vices; and the more a man has made progress in a good life, he will burn with a, proportionate zeal in his detestation of vices and in shunning them. Moreover, we are taught by the words of the prophet, that the reason why men are so involved in falsehoods, and entangled in perverse errors, is, because they have not learned wisdom from the word of God. As the whole world are given to folly, those who wander astray plead in excuse, that it is difficult for them to guard against the allurements of vice. But the remedy will be near at hand, if we follow the counsel of the prophet; that is to say, if, instead of leaning on our own wisdom, we seek understanding from the word of God, in which he not only shows what is right:. but also fortifies our minds, and puts us on our guard against all the deceits of Satan, and all the impostures of the world. Would to God that, at the present day, this were thoroughly impressed on the minds of all who boast themselves of being Christians; for then they would not be continually driven about, as the greater part of them are, with such inconstancy, according to the conflicting impulses of prevailing opinions. As Satan is so sedulously exerting himself to spread abroad the mists of error, let us apply ourselves with the greater earnestness to the acquisition of this wisdom.
נ 105. Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path. נ 106. I have sworn, and will conform, to keep thy righteous judgments. נ 107. I am greatly afflicted, O Jehovah! quicken me according to thy word. נ 108. O Jehovah! I beseech thee let the free-will-offerings of my mouth be acceptable to thee, and teach me thy judgments. נ 109. My soul is continually in my hand; and I have not forgotten thy law. נ 110. The wicked have laid a snare for me; and, have not erred from thy statutes. נ 111. I have thy testimonies as an inheritance forever; for they are the joy of my heart. נ 112. I have inclined my heart to perform thy statutes forever, to the end.
105. Thy word is a lamp to my feet. In this verse the Psalmist testifies that the Divine Law was his schoolmaster and guide in leading a holy life. He thus, by his own example, prescribes the same rule to us all; and it is highly necessary to observe this rule; for while each of us follows what seems good in his own estimation, we become entangled in inextricable and frightful mazes. The more distinctly to understand his intention, it is to be noted, that the word of God is set in opposition to all human counsels. What the world judges right is often crooked and perverse in the judgment of God, who approves of no other manner of living, than that which is framed according to the rule of his law. It is also to be observed, that David could not have been guided by God’s word, unless he had first renounced the wisdom of the flesh, for it is only when we are brought to do this, that we begin to be of a teachable disposition. But the metaphor which he uses implies something more; namely, that unless the word of God enlighten men’s path, the whole of their life is enveloped in darkness and obscurity, so that they cannot do anything else than miserably wander from the right way; and again, that when we submit ourselves with docility to the teaching of God’s law, we are in no danger of going astray. Were there such obscurity in God’s word, as the Papists foolishly talk about, the commendation with which the prophet here honors the law would be altogether undeserved. Let us, then, be assured that an unerring light is to be found there, provided we open our eyes to behold it. The Apostle Peter (2Pe 1:19) has more plainly expressed the same sentiment, when he commends the faithful for taking heed to the word of prophecy, “as unto a light that shineth in a dark place.”
106. I have sworn, and will perform Here the Psalmist speaks of his own constancy. He had declared a little before, that during the whole course of his life, he had not declined from God’s law, and now he speaks of the purpose of his mind. By the word swear, he intimates that he had solemnly pledged himself to God not to alter his determination. The true manner of keeping God’s law is to receive and embrace what he commands heartily, and, at the same time, uniformly, that our ardor may not forthwith abate, as is often the case. This also is the proper rule of vowing, that we may offer ourselves to God, and dedicate our life to him. It may, however, be asked, whether the prophet’s oath may not be condemned as rash, inasmuch as he presumed to engage to do far more than man’s ability is equal to; for who is able to keep the law? The man, then, it may be alleged, vows rashly, who promises to God a thing which it is beyond his power to accomplish. The answer is obvious: Whenever the faithful vow to Him, they do not look to what they are able to do of themselves, but they depend upon the grace of God, to whom it belongs to perform what he requires from them, in the way of supplying them with strength by his Holy Spirit. When the question is in reference to service to be rendered to God, they cannot vow anything without the Holy Spirit; for, as Paul says in 2Co 3:5,
“Not that are sufficient of ourselves to think anything
as of ourselves.”
But when God stretches forth his hand to us, he bids us be of good courage, and promises that he will never fail us; and this is the source from which the boldness to swear, here spoken of, proceeds. Nor is it any rashness at all, when, confiding in his promises, by which he anticipates us, we, on our part, offer ourselves to his service. The question, however, still remains unsolved; for although the children of God ultimately prove victorious over all temptations by the grace of the Holy Spirit, yet there is always some infirmity about them. But it is to be observed, that the faithful, in making vows and promises, have a respect not only to that article of the covenant, by which God has promised that he will cause us to walk in his commandments, but also to that other article which is, at the same time, added concerning the free forgiveness of their sins, Ezek. 11:20, Ezek. 36:27; Ps 103:13. David, therefore, according to the measure of grace given him, bound himself by oath to keep God’s la encouraged by these words of the prophet,
“I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him,”
107. I am greatly afflicted, O Jehovah! This verse teaches, that God did not cherish the fathers under the law in his bosom so delicately as not to exercise them with grievous temptations; for the Psalmist declares that he was not afflicted lightly, or in an ordinary degree, but above measure. His prayer to be quickened implies that he was at the point of death. He, however, at the same time, shows, that though he was besieged by death, he yet fainted not, because he leaned upon God — a point worthy of special notice; for though, at the beginning, we may call upon God with much alacrity, yet when the trial increases in severity, our hearts quail, and, in the extremity of fear, our confidence is extinguished. Yet the prophet implores God for grace, not in order to his life being preserved in safety, but in order to his recovering the life he had lost, which indicates both the low condition to which he was reduced, and his continued confidence in God. We must also observe attentively the last part of the clause, according to thy word We will pray coldly, or rather we will not pray at all, if God’s promise does not inspire us with courage in our sorrow and distress. In short, as we have said elsewhere, it is indispensably necessary that we should have this key at hand, in order to our having free access to the throne of grace.
108. O Jehovah! I beseech thee, let the flee-will-offerings of my mouth. This verse may be read in one connected sentence, as well as divided into two members. According to the former view, the sense will be, Receive, e Lord, my sacrifices, to this end, that thou mayest teach me thy commandments. If we prefer dividing the verse into two clauses, then it will consist of two separate prayers; first, a prayer that God would accept the prophet’s sacrifices; and, secondly, a prayer that he would instruct him in the doctrine of the law. I am rather inclined to follow the first opinion. The prophet affirms, as we have seen elsewhere, that nothing was more precious to him than to understand the doctrine of the law. Lord, as if he had said, do thou, according to thy good pleasure, accept the sacrifices which I offer thee; and as my chief desire is, to be instructed aright in thy law, grant that I may be a partaker of this blessing, which I am so anxious to obtain. We should mark all the places in which the knowledge of divine truth is preferred to all the other benefits bestowed upon mankind; and doubtless, since it contains in it the pledge of everlasting salvation, there is good reason why it should be esteemed as an inestimable treasure. Yet the prophet begins at a point remote from this, praying that God would vouchsafe to approve of and accept his services. By the word נדבות, nidboth, I have no doubt he denotes the sacrifices which were called free-will-offerings. I indeed grant that he speaks properly of vows and prayers; but as the chosen people to propitiate God, were wont to offer sacrifices, according as every man had ability, he alludes to that custom which prevailed under the law; even as Hosea (Ho 14:2) designates the praises of God “the calves of the lips.” It was the design of God, by that ceremony, to testify to the fathers that no prayers were acceptable to him, but those which were joined with sacrifice, that they might always turn their minds to the Mediator. In the first place, he acknowledges that he was unworthy of obtaining any thing by his prayers, and that, if God heard him, it proceeded from his free and unmerited grace. In the second place, he desires that God would be favorable to him in the way of enabling him to profit aright in the doctrine of the law. The verb, רצה ratsah, which he uses: signifies to favor of mere good will. Whence it follows, that there is nothing meritorious in our prayers, and that, whenever God hears them, it is in the exercise of his free goodness.
109. My soul is continually in my hand. He declares, that no calamities, afflictions, or dangers, which he had experienced: had withdrawn him from the service of God, and the observance of his law. To bear his soul in his hand, is equivalent to his being in danger of his life, so that the soul was, as it were abandoned to the wind. Thus Job, (Job 13:14,) when he pines in his miseries: and is looking for death every moment, and dreading it, complains that his soul was in his hand; as if he had said, It is plucked from its own dwelling-place: and is under the dominion of death. 434 This form of expression is therefore unhappily wrested to an absurd meaning by ignorant people, who understand the prophet as intimating, that it was in his own power to govern his life as he pleased. So far from intending to convey such an idea, by this circumstance he commends his own piety, declaring, that although he was tossed among shipwrecks, and death in a hundred forms hovered before his eyes, so that he could not rest in security for a single moment, yet he had not cast from him the love and study of the Divine law. Here, again, it is well to notice the severe and arduous conflicts by which the fathers, under the law, were tried, that dangers and fears may not frighten us, or, by the weariness they produce, deprive us of courage, and thus prevent the remembrance of the Divine law from remaining impressed on our hearts.
110. The wicked have laid a snare for me The meaning of this verse is similar to that of the preceding. The prophet shows more definitely in what respect he carried his life in his hand; namely, because, being hemmed in on all sides by the snares of the wicked, he saw scarcely any hope of life. We have previously observed how difficult it is to avoid wandering from the ways of the Lord, when our enemies, by their subtle arts, endeavor to effect our destruction. The depraved desire of our fallen nature incites us to retaliate, nor do we see any way of preserving our life, unless we employ the same arts by which they assail us; and we persuade ourselves that it is lawful for us to howl among wolves. Such being the ease, we ought, with the more attention, to meditate upon this doctrine, That, when the wicked environ and besiege us by their wiles, the best thing we can do is to follow whither God calls us, and to attempt nothing but what is agreeable to his will.
111. I have thy testimonies as an inheritance for ever. He again confirms the sentiment, which cannot be too often repeated, That the law of God was more precious to him than all the pleasures, riches, and possessions, of the world. I have said, that it is not in vain that these things are so often repeated; for we see how violently the men of the world boil to gratify their unruly lusts, with what multiplied anxieties they are agitated, while they are unceasingly coveting innumerable objects; and, in the meantime, scarcely one in a hundred is, in a moderate degree, aiming to apply his mind to the study of the Divine law. The prophet, then, to stir us up by his own example, asserts, that he took such pleasure in God’s, testimonies as to esteem nothing more precious. It is love only which leads us to set a value on any object; and, therefore, it is requisite, in order to our observing the Divine law with the reverence due to it, that we begin with this delight in it. It is not wonderful, if God’s testimonies convey to our minds a joy, which, causing us to reject and despise all other things, holds our affections fast bound to them. What can be sweeter than to have heaven opened to us, that we may come freely into the presence of God, when, adopting us to be his children, he pardons our sins? What can be more desirable than to hear that he is so pacified towards us, as to take upon himself the care of our life? This I have thought good to observe briefly, that we might not think it strange to find David rejoicing so greatly in God’s law. The similitude of inheritance is of frequent occurrence in the Scriptures; and we apply the designation of inheritance to that which we hold in the highest estimation, so that we are contented to be deprived of all other things, provided we retain the safe and full possession of that one thing. Accordingly, the prophet intimates, that whatever good things he had obtained he accounted them as adventitious, and that the truths revealed in God’s word alone were to him as an inheritance. Without the Divine word all other things were in his estimation as nothing; so that he could willingly leave to others, riches, honors, comforts, and pleasures, provided he possessed this incomparable treasure. It is not meant to say that he; altogether despised the temporal benefits which God bestows, but his mind was not bound fast to them.
112. I have inclined my heart to perform thy statutes. In this verse he describes the right observance of the law, which consists in Our cheerfully and heartily preparing ourselves for doing what the law commands. Slavish and constrained obedience differs little from rebellion. The prophet, therefore, in order briefly to define what it is to serve God, asserts, that he applied not only his hands, eyes, or feet, to the keeping of the law, but that he began with the affection of the heart. Instead of the verb incline, the verb extend might with propriety be employed; but I am inclined to rest in the more generally received interpretation, which is, that he devoted himself with sincere affection of heart to the observance of the law. This inclination of the heart is oppose to the wandering lusts which rise up against God, and drag us any where rather than incline us to a virtuous life. The attempt of the Papists to defend from this passage their doctrine of free will is mere trifling. They infer from the words of the prophet, that it is in the power of man to bend his own heart in whatever way he pleases. But the answer is easy. The prophet does not here boast of what he had done by his own strength, for he now repeats the very same word which he had employed before, when he said, Incline my heart to these testimonies. If that prayer was not feigned, he doubtless acknowledged by it that it was the peculiar work of the Holy Spirit to incline and frame our hearts to God. But it is no new thing for that to be ascribed to us which God works in us: Paul’s statement to this effect is very plain,
“It is God who worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasures” (Php 2:13.)
When the prophet says of himself that he inclined his heart, he does not separate his own endeavor from the grace of the Holy Spirit, by whose inspiration he has previously declared that the whole was done. At the same time, he distinguishes the constancy of his pious affection from the transient favor of others. Thus, that he might not fail in the midst of his course, or even go backward, he affirms that he had resolved to continue in the same course during the whole of his life. The word עקב, ekeb, to the end, in my opinion, is added to the word לעולם, leolam, for ever, by way of exposition; and to show us that he struggled manfully against all obstacles and difficulties, that they might not break his constancy; for no man perseveres in the service of God without arduous exertions. Some take the word as denoting a reward; 435 but this seems too foreign to the design of the passage.
ס 113. I have hated crooked thoughts, and loved thy law. ס 114. Thou art my hiding-place and my shield: I have trusted in thy word. ס 115. Depart from me, ye wicked! and I will keep the commandments of my God. ס 116. Sustain me by thy word, and I shall live: and make me not ashamed of my expectation. ס 117. Establish me, and I shall be safe: and I will consider thy statutes continually. ס 118. Thou hast trodden under foot all those who wander from thy statutes; for their deceit is falsehood. ס 119. Thou hast made all the wicked of the earth to cease as dross; therefore I have loved thy testimonies. ס 120. My flesh trembled for fear of thee, and I was afraid of thy judgments.
113. I have hated crooked thoughts. Those who are of opinion that the word סעפום seaphim, the first in the verse, and which is rendered crooked thoughts, is an appellate noun, translate it, those who think evil; 436 but it is more correct to understand it of the thoughts themselves, 437 and this interpretation is very generally adopted. The noun סעף, saeph, properly signifies a branch, but it is applied metaphorically to the thoughts, which, growing out of the heart, as branches from the trunk of a tree, spread themselves in every direction. As there is no doubt that in this passage the term is taken in a bad sense, I have added the epithet, crooked, which the etymology of the word requires. 438 As the branches of a tree shoot out transversely, entangled and intertwined, so the thoughts of the human mind are, in like manner, confusedly mingled together, turning and twisting about in all directions. Some Jewish interpreters understand it of the laws of the heathen, which, they say, were cut off from the law of God, as branches from a tree; but although this is ingenious, it has no solidity. I therefore keep by the more simple explanation, That the crooked inventions of the human heart, and whatever the wicked devise, according to their own perverse understandings, are set in opposition to the law of God, which alone is right. And, assuredly, whoever would truly embrace the law of God, must, necessarily, as his first business, divest himself of all unhallowed and sinful thoughts, or rather go out of his own nature. Such is the meaning, unless, perhaps, preferring another metaphor, we understand סעפום, seaphim, to signify high thoughts, since the verb סעף, saaph, is taken for to lift up. Now we know that no sacrifice is more acceptable to God than obedience, when we entertain low thoughts of ourselves; and thus our docility begins with humility. But as this exposition may seem also far-fetched, I pass from it. Let what I have: said suffice us, That since God acknowledges as the disciples of his law those only who are well purified from all contrary imaginations, which corrupt our understanding, the prophet here protests that he is an enemy to all crooked thoughts, which are wont to draw men hither and thither.
114. Thou art my hiding place and my shield. The meaning is, that the prophet, persuaded that the only way in which he could be safe, was by lying hid under the wings of God, confided in his promises, and, therefore, feared nothing. And, assuredly, the first point is, that the faithful should hold it as a settled principle, that amidst the many dangers to which they are exposed, the preservation of their life is entirely owing to the protection of God; in order that they may be excited to flee to him, and leaning upon his word, may confidently wait for the deliverance which he has promised. This confidence, That God is our refuge and our shield, is, no doubt, derived from the word; but we must remember that there is here a mutual relation — that, when we have learned from the word of God that we have in him a safe hiding-place, this truth is to be cherished and confirmed in our hearts, under a consciousness of our absolute need of the divine protection. Besides, although his power ought abundantly to suffice in inspiring us with the hope of salvation, yet we should always set the word before us, that our faith may not fail when his aid is slow in coming.
115. Depart from me, ye wicked! Some explain this verse as if David declared that he would devote himself with more alacrity and greater earnestness to the keeping of the law, when the wicked should have desisted from assaulting him. And, unquestionably, when we feel that God has delivered us, we are more than stupid if this experience does not stir up within us an earnest desire to serve him. If godliness does not increase in us in proportion to the sense and experience we have of God’s grace, we betray base ingratitude. This, then, is a true and useful doctrine; but the prophet meant to convey a different sentiment in this place. As he saw how great a hindrance the ungodly are to us, he banishes them to a distance from him; or rather, he testifies that he will beware of entangling himself in their society. Nor has he said this so much for his own sake as to teach us by his example, that if we would hold on in the way of the Lord without stumbling, we must endeavor, above all things, to keep at the greatest possible distance from worldly and wicked men, not in regard to distance of place, but in respect of intercourse and conversation. Provided we contract an intimate acquaintance with them, it is scarcely possible for us to avoid being speedily corrupted by the contagion of their example. The dangerous influence of fellowship with wicked men is but too evident from observation; and to this it is owing, that few continue in their integrity to the close of life, the world being fraught with corruption’s. From the extreme infirmity of our nature, it is the easiest thing in the world to catch infection, and to contract pollution even from the slightest touch. The prophet, then, with good reason, bids the wicked depart from him, that he may advance in the fear of God without obstruction. Whoever entangles himself in their companionship will, in process of time, proceed the length of abandoning himself to a contempt, of God, and of leading a dissolute life. With this statement agrees the admonition of Paul, in 2Co 6:14, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” It was, indeed, beyond the prophet’s power to chase the wicked to a distance from him; but by these words he intimates, that from henceforth he will have no intercourse with them. He emphatically designates God as his God, to testify that he makes more account of him alone than of all mankind. Finding extreme wickedness universally prevailing on the earth, he separated himself from men, that he might join himself wholly to God. At the present day, that bad examples may not carry us away to evil, it greatly concerns us to put God on our side, and to abide constantly in him, because he is ours.
116. Sustain me by thy word, and I shall live. Many read, According to thy word, so that the letter ב, beth, which signifies in, is taken for the letter כ, caph, which signifies as; and thus the sense would be, Sustain me according to the promise which thou hast made to me, or, as thou hast promised to me. And, undoubtedly, whenever God stretches out his hand to us to raise us up when we are fallen, or supports us with his hand, he fulfills his promises. The prophet, however, seems to pray, that constancy of faith may be given him, to enable him to continue steadfast in the divine word. We are said to fall from God’s word when we fall from the faith of it; and in like manner, so long as we repose upon the truth and certainty of it, he is our sustainer. But, as the prophet well knew that there is not strength in man adequate to this, he asks from God ability to persevere as the singular gift of the Holy Spirit. It follows, then, that true stability is to be found no where else but in the word of God; and that no man can steadfastly lean upon it but he who is strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit. We must therefore always beseech God, who alone is the author and finisher of faith, to maintain in us this grace. Farther, when the Psalmist places life in faith, he teaches, that all that men promise themselves without the word is mere falsehood. It is therefore the Lord alone who quickens us by his word, even as it is said in Habakkuk, (Hab 2:4,) “The just shall live by faith.” Both passages have the same meaning. After Habakkuk has derided the foolish confidence of the flesh, with which men are generally inflated, and as manifested in their raising themselves on high that they may fall with the greater violence, he shows, that the faithful alone, whom the word of God sustains, stand upon safe and sure ground.
If the first interpretation is adopted, the second clause, make me not ashamed of my expectation, will be added by way of exposition; for these two things — the prayer that the prophet maybe preserved by God’s grace according to his word, and the prayer that he may reap the fruit of his hope — would amount to nearly the same thing. Yet, after having beseeched God to grant him constancy to persevere, he seems now to proceed farther, praying that God would, in very deed, show the thing which he had promised. Every man’s own infirmity bears witness to the many doubts which intrude into our minds, when, after long endurance, the issue is not answerable to our expectation; for God, in that case:. seems to disappoint us.
To the same effect is the next verse, except that no express mention is made of the word; and safety is put for life. The prophet means to say, that whenever God withdrew his word, it would be all over with his safety; but that, if he were established by the Divine power, there was nothing of which he would have reason to be afraid. The verb שעה shaah, which we have translated I will consider, is rendered by many, I will delight, and this sense is not unsuitable; for although God may give a very desirable taste of his goodness in his bare word, yet the savor of it is not a little increased when to the word the effect is added, provided we do not perversely separate God’s benefits from his promises. It is the true wisdom of faith to consider all his benefits as the result or fruit of his promises, of which, if we make no account, the enjoyment of all his good things will be of little advantage to us, or rather will often prove hurtful and deadly. Yet it appears to me preferable to render the verb by consider; for the more experience any man has of God’s help, the more ought he to awaken himself to consider heavenly doctrine. The Psalmist adds, that he will continue to persevere in this meditation during the whole of his life.
118. Thou hast trodden under foot all those who wander from thy statutes. By treading under foot he means, that God overthrows all the despisers of his law, and casts them down from that loftiness which they assume to themselves. The phrase is directed against the foolish, or rather frantic, confidence with which the wicked are inflated, when they recklessly deride the judgments of God; and, what is more, scruple not to magnify themselves against him, as if they were not subject to his power. The last clause is to be particularly noticed: for their deceit is falsehood 439 By these words the prophet teaches, that the wicked gain nothing by their wiles, but that they are rather entangled in them, or at length discover that they were mere sleight of hand. Those ignorantly mar the sense who interpose the copula and, as if it had been said, that deceit and falsehood were in them The word רמוה, remyah, signifies a subtle and crafty device. Interpreters, indeed, often translate it thought; but this term does not sufficiently express the propriety and force of the Hebrew word. The prophet means, that, however well pleased the wicked are with their own cunning, they yet do nothing else than deceive themselves with falsehood. And it was needful to add this clause; for we see how the great bulk of mankind are fatally intoxicated with their own vain imaginations, and how difficult it is to believe what is here asserted, — that the more shrewd they are in their own estimation, the more do they deceive themselves.
119. Thou hast made all the wicked of the earth to cease as dross. The meaning of this verse is similar to that of the preceding. By the similitude employed, there is described a sudden and an unexpected change, when their imaginative glory and happiness become dissipated in smoke. It is to be observed, that the vengeance of God against the wicked is not all at once manifested, so that they completely perish, or are exterminated from the earth; but as God, in rooting them out one after another, shows himself to be the judge of the world, and that he is purging the earth of them, it is not wonderful to find the prophet speaking of their destruction in this manner; for the Hebrew verbs often denote a continued act. As God, then, executes his judgments by little and little, and often suspends punishment until he see that the wicked abuse his long-suffering; it becomes us, on our part, to continue patiently waiting until, as a heathen writer observes, he compensate the delay of the punishment, by its severity when inflicted. It is abundantly evident, that the particle of similitude, as, is to be supplied before the word dross 440 Nor do I reject the opinion of those who assert, that the wicked are compared to dross, because, so long as they are mingled among the faithful as dregs, they infect and contaminate them; but when they are removed as scum, the purity of the godly shines forth with improved lustre. In the second place, the prophet adds, that the judgments of God were not without fruit in him, since they led him to love the doctrine of the law the more. Those who are not induced to commit themselves to the protection of God, whenever, by lifting up his hand, he shows that the world is governed by his power, must certainly be very perverse; but when, of his own good pleasure, he offers himself to us by his word, those who do not make haste to embrace so great a boon are stupid indeed. On the other hand, when he connives for a long time at the wickedness of men, devout affection, which should ravish us with the love of God’s word, languishes.
120. My flesh hath trembled for fear of thee. 441 At first sight the prophet seems to contradict himself. He had just now said, that, by God’s severity, he was gently drawn to love his testimonies; now he declares, that he was seized with terror. But although these two effects differ widely from each other, yet, if we consider by what kind of discipline God forms us to reverence his law, we will perceive that they entirely harmonize. We require to be subdued by fear that we may desire and seek after the favor of God. Since fear, then, is the beginning of love, the prophet testifies, that he was awakened by a heart-felt fear of God to look well to himself. Nor is the mortification of the flesh so easy a matter, as that every one should consent to enter upon it, without the constraint of violent means; and, therefore, it is not wonderful if God struck his servant with terror, that, in this way, he might bend his mind to a holy fear of him. It is an evidence of no common wisdom to tremble before God when he executes his judgments, of which the majority of mankind take no notice. We are then taught by these words of the prophet, that we ought to consider attentively the judgments of God, that they may not only gently instruct us, but that they may also strike us with such terror as will lead us to true repentance.
It is, however, a mistake to suppose, that no connection of thought is observed throughout this lengthened composition, as has sometimes been asserted even by writers of note. “It has been too commonly assumed,” says Jebb, that the 119th psalm is a collection of unconnected thoughts. To this opinion, even that most profound religious philosopher, Dr Barrow, inclines, (Sermon 48, on Ps 119:60;) and his eloquent words must, in this instance, be received with no small caution. ‘this psalm,’ he says, ‘no less excellent in virtue than large in bulk, containeth manifold reflections on the nature, the properties, the adjuncts, and effects of God’s law; many sprightly ejaculations about it, conceived in different forms of speech; some in way of petition, some of thanksgiving, some of resolution, some of assertion or aphorism; many useful directions many zealous exhortations to the observance of it; the which are not ranged in any strict order, but, like a variety of wholesome herbs in a fair field, do, with a grateful confusion, lie dispersed, as they freely did spring in the heart, or were suggested by the devout spirit of him who indicted this psalm; where no coherence of sentences being designed, we may consider any one of them absolutely or singly by itself.’ The fine imagination of this eminent writer justly recognizes the beautiful variety, the variegations of thought, the πολυποίκιλος σοφία exhibited in this psalm; but too much seems to be conceded to the prevalent opinion of a want of connection. I willingly allow, that the sentiments are not limited and enthralled by any exact or Procrustean rule; that there are no measures of intellectual geometry adhered to, reducing this divine poem to a rigid didactic system: that the mind of the prophet is free, and flowing, and discursive. Still this very flow of thought implies connection and association, and forbids the frigid idea that the psalm is a mere canto of reflections, like Lord Bacon’s collection of aphorisms, or the maxims of Isocrates. I do not intend to maintain what could not be proved, that a consecutive order can be traced throughout; but instances can, undoubtedly, be drawn of passages which maintan a beautiful sequence and connection between their several members.” — Jebb’s Literal Translation of the Book of Psalms, with Dissertations, volume 2, pages 274-276.
“Vel, perfecti.” — Lat. marg. “Or, perfect.”
מאד, meod, superlatively, — to the uttermost.
Hammond reads, “O forsake me not to any great degree;” and adds, “The Hebrew עד-מאד, ad meod, here, and in verse 43, is literally unto very much. So the LXX. render it, ἕως σφόδρα, i e., to any high degree, the Chaldee, ‘unto all at once,’ but the Syriac, for ever, both referring it to the time, whereas the Hebrew seems rather to the degree, from the noun that signifies multitude, plenty, abundance.”
Some consider this psalm, as well as all the other alphabetic psalms, to be much more modern compositions than the time of David, and refer it to the time of the captivity in Babylon. But many others, as Venema, Michaelis, etc., ascribe it to David, and suppose it to have been written before his elevation to the throne. Its contents, certainly, favor this latter opinion, seeming to accord so well with the long and harassing persecution to which he was subjected by the malice and revenge of Saul. If David was its author, it is the most artificial and operose in its composition of all his psalms, and he has exhibited in the treatment of his subject — which is the celebration of the perfection of God’s law, and the happiness of those who obey it — an extraordinary fecundity of expression, as if one of his intentions had been to show in how many various shapes, and with what copiousness of words, he could enunciate and illustrate a few and the same topics. The aspirations for instruction, consolation, and protection, with which almost every portion of this psalm is mingled, have a soothing and delightful effect, whilst the language throughout is rendered impressive by its peculiar strength and concinnity. It may, however, be doubtful, whether it be just to elevate it, as has been done by some, above all the other psalms. Dr Adam Clarke justly remarks, “Like all other portions of divine revelation, it is elegant, important, and useful; and while I admire the fecundity of the Psalmist’s genius, the unabating flow of his poetic vein, his numerous synonymes, and his copia verborum, by which he is enabled to expound, diversify, and illustrate the same idea: presenting it to his reader in all possible points of view, so as to render it pleasing, instructive, and impressive; I cannot rob the rest of the book of its just praise by setting this, as many have done, above all the pieces it contains. It is by far the longest, the most artificial, and most diversified, yet, in proportion to its length, it contains the fewest ideas of any in the book.”
Others deny that these and other similar terms, which frequently occur in this psalm, are mere synonymes; and they have endeavoured to show from etymological investigation, that, although all of them designate the law, yet they present it under a different aspect. Jebb has attempted, at some length, to point out the specific differences between these words. The following is an abstract of his remarks: — “The next peculiarity to be observed in this psalm is, the regular recurrence of nine characteristic words, at least one or other of which is found in each distich, with one solitary exception, the second distich of the 12th division. These words are law, testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandments, judgments, word, saying; and a word which only twice occurs as a characteristic, — way.
“These are, doubtless, all designations of the Divine Law; but it were doing a deep injury to the cause of revealed truth to affirm that they are mere synonyms; in other words, that the sentiments of this compendium of heavenly wisdom are little better than a string of tautologies. The fact is, as some critics, both Jewish and Christian, have observed, that each of these terms designates the same law of God, but each under a different aspect, signifying the different modes of its promulgation, and of its reception. Each of these words will now be examined in order, and an attempt will be made to discriminate them.
“1. Law. This word is formed from a verb which means to direct, to guide, to aim, to shoot forwards. Its etymological meaning, then, would be a rule of conduct, a κανών σαφὴς. It means God’s law in general, whether it be that universal rule called the law of nature, or that which was revealed to his Church by Moses, and perfected by Christ. In strictness, the law means a plain rule of conduct, rather placed clearly in man’s sight, than enforced by any command; that is to say, this word does not necessarily include its sanctions.
“2. Testimonies are derived from a word which signifies to bear witness, to testify. The ark of the tabernacle is so called, as are the two tables of stone, and the tabernacle: the earnests and witnesses of God’s inhabitation among his people. Testimonies are more particularly God’s revealed law: the witnesses and confirmation of his promises made to his people, and earnests of his future salvation.
“3. Precepts, from a word which means to place in trust, mean something intrusted to man, ‘that which is committed to thee:’ appointments of God, which consequently have to do with the conscience, for which man is responsible, as an intelligent being.
“4. Statutes. The verb from which this word is formed means to engrave or inscribe. The word means a definite prescribed written law. The term is applied to Joseph’s law about the portion of the priests in Egypt, to the law about the Passover, etc. But in this psalm it has a more internal meaning; — that moral law of God, which is engraved on the fleshy tables of the heart; the inmost and spiritual apprehension of his will: not so obvious as the law and testimonies, and a matter of more direct spiritual communication than his precepts: the latter being more elaborated by the efforts of the mind itself, divinely guided indeed, but perhaps more instrumentally, and less passively, employed.
“5. Commandments, derived from a verb signifying to command or ordain. Such was God’s command to Adam about the tree; to Noah about constructing the ark.
“6. Judgments, derived from a word signifying to govern, to judge or determine, mean judicial ordinances and decisions: legal sanctions.
“7. Word. There are two terms, quite distinct in the Hebrew, but both rendered word, in each of our authorized versions. The latter of these is rendered saying in the former volume of this work. They are closely connected; since out of twenty-two passages in which word occurs, in fourteen it is parallel to, or in connection with, saying. From this very circumstance it is evident they are not synonymous.
“The term here rendered word means the Λόγος, or Word of God, in its most divine sense; the announcement of God’s revealed will; his command; his oracle; at times, the special communication to the prophets. The ten commandments are called by this term in Exodus: and דביר is the oracle in the temple. In this psalm it may be considered as, — 1. God’s revealed commandments in general. 2. As a revealed promise of certain blessings to the righteous. 3. As a thing committed to him as the minister of God. 4. As a rule of conduct; a channel of illumination.
“8. As to the remaining word way, that occurs but twice as a characteristic word, and the places in which it occurs must rather be considered as exceptions to the general rule: so that I am not disposed to consider it as intended to be a cognate expression with the above. At all events, its meaning is so direct and simple as to require no explanation: a plain rule of conduct; in its higher sense, the assisting grace of God through Christ our Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” — Jebb’s Literal Translation of the book of Psalms, with Dissertations, volume 2, pages 279-293.
I have hid thy word in my heart, i.e., I have laid it up there, as men deposit their most precious possessions in a secure place known only to themselves. Comp. Pr 11:1; and see 2Ki 20:13, etc., for an instance of the contrary practice.
— “Et les ans qui se seront en fascherie.” — Fr.
“The Hebrew תשגני is here in the conjugation Hiphil, from שגה, to be ignorant or err. Now of that conjugation the Hebrews observe, that as it signifies sometimes no more than to permit, so it sometimes notes to cause, sometimes to occasion, that which the verb imports.” — Hammond
Marvelous things “means things which are difficult and wonderful. The reference here is to the figures and adumbration’s of the law, which so veiled and concealed the substances to which they related, that the mass of readers quite lost sight of them. The Psalmist therefore prays for Divine illumination, to enable him to solve, at least in some decree, the enigmas in which future things were enveloped.” — Walford
“Every intense exertion of mind has an influence, if it be long continued, to exhaust and impair the faculties in some degree. Such an effect is here alluded to; the close and assiduous attention which the Psalmist had paid, and the exertion of strong desire which he had exercised, produced the feeling which he here speaks of. He is also to be regarded as using the language of poetry, which admits of stronger colouring than prosaic description.” — Walford.
“Maintenant veu qu’elle n’y est point adjoustee, le mot de Destruire y conviendra mieux.” — Fr.
My soul may here be considered equivalent to I myself. In Jer 51:14, by my soul is rendered, in our English translation, by myself.
“Mon ame s’escoule goutte a goutte.” — Fr. “Floweth drop by drop.” Walford, who translates “is bowed down,” considers Calvin’s translation objectionable, as it does not correspond with the prayer in the succeeding sentence, Raise me up according to thy word. “The Vulgar translation of this clause,” says he, “‘my soul melteth,’ or, as other interpreters think, ‘my soul is dissolved into tears,’ appears to be inadmissible, chiefly on account of the next clause. Dathe, following Driessenius, Knapp, and Seiler, explains it, as is here done, by ‘is bowed down,’ a sense which the word דלף has in the Arabic use of it, and which certainly agrees with the connection much better than that of weeping or dissolving.”
The original word for my soul might here, as in verse 28, be translated I myself, or my life, and then, cleaving to the dust may imply an apprehension of approaching death; and this agrees best with the petition. “By dust is here probably meant the sepulchre or grave, as in Ps. 22:15, 29, so that the Psalmist is to be understood to say, ‘The dangers which surround me are such as threaten my death;’ and he immediately adds, ‘Revive me according to thy word,’ i.e., Make me glad by delivering me from these perils, in agreement with the promises which thou hast given me.” — Walford
Arnobins and Augustine interpret thy word as signifying, in this place, thy promise. See verse 28, and Ps 44:25.
“On pourroit dire en francois, Donne moy gratuitement.” — Fr. “One can say in French, Give me gratuitously.”
“Au large.” — Fr.
“O take not, etc. This verse seems to admit of either of the two following interpretations: ‘Suffer me not to desist utterly from making an open profession of true religion; for I wait for thy promises:’ or, ‘Suffer me not to be reproached with falsehood, (for having asserted that thou wouldest take vengeance on the wicked,) because I have looked for thy judgments,’ i.e., thy penal judgments. Calvin favors the former interpretation, the latter is Le Clerc’s.” — Cresswell. Walford, by word, understands the answer that the Psalmist had to make to the accusations of his enemies: and observes, “This answer, which asserted his innocence of the crimes with which they charged him, he declares to be altogether true; and he entreats that God, as a judge, would not suffer him to be deprived of the benefit of that answer, but pronounce a righteous sentence between them.”
“Dr Delaney supposes that this is spoken in reference to Achish, king of Gath, whom David had instructed in the Jewish religion: but we have already seen that it is most likely that the psalm was compiled under the Babylonish captivity. But the words may, with more propriety, be referred to the case of Daniel, and other bold and faithful Israelites, who spoke courageously before Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius. See the Books of Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah.” — Dr Adam Clarke.
“The lifting up of the hands is used in Scripture to denote, first, praying, (Ps 28:2; La 2:19; 1Ti 2:8;) secondly, blessing, (Le 19:22; Ps 22:4;) thirdly, swearing, (Ge 14:22; De 32:40; Ps 106:26; Eze 36:7; Re 10:5;) fourthly, setting about any undertaking, (Ge 41:44; Ps 10:13; Heb 12:12) Aben Ezra, however, explains, (and perhaps rightly,) that the metaphor, in this place, is taken from the action of those who receive any one whom they were glad or proud to see with uplifted hands.” — Cresswell. Merrick explains the phrase thus: “I will reach out my hands with eagerness, in order to receive thy commandments.”
“The Scriptures, like a true mirror, display the justice of God, in the punishment of sinners, and his goodness, in rendering righteousness.” — Dimock.
The Hebrew word here used for terror is זלעפה, zalaphah, and is supposed to refer to the blasting or scorching wind, called the Simoom, well known to the Eastern nations. Accordingly, Michaelis reads, “A deadly East wind seizes me.” Cocceius reads, “Horror, as a tempest, has seized upon me.” “The sacred writer,” says he, “represents the vehement commotion of his mind as resembling a violent commotion in the air.” According to Dimock, זלעפה denotes, in this place, the burning fever which the pestilential winds in the East occasioned. The word occurs only three times in Scripture; here, in Ps 11:7, and in La 5:10. Our translators have rendered it, in Ps 11:7, by storm, and in La 5:10, in the margin, plurally by terrors or storms. See volume 1, page 168, note.
“In the early ages, it was customary to versify the laws, that the people might learn them by heart, and sing them.” — Williams.
“Ou, les assemblees des meschans m’ont despouille’, ou pille.” — Fr. marg. “Or, the assemblies of the wicked have robbed me.”
“I thought on my ways חשבתי, chashabti, I deeply pondered them; I turned them upside down: I viewed my conduct on all sides. The word as used here is a metaphor taken from embroidering, where the figure must appear the same on the one side as it does on the other: therefore the cloth must be turned on each side every time the needle is set in, to see that the stitch be fairly set. Thus narrowly and scrupulously did the Psalmist examine his conduct; and the result was, a deep conviction that he had departed from the way of God and truth.” — Dr Adam Clarke
“The original word, which we translate delayed not, is amazingly emphatical. ולא התמהמהתי velo hethmahmaheti, I did not stand what, what, whating; or, as we used to express the same sentiment, shilly-shallying with myself; I was determined, and so set out. The Hebrew word, as well as the English, strongly marks indecision of mind, positive action being suspended, because the mind is so unfixed as not to be able to make a choice.” — Dr Adam Clarke
“The congregation of the ungodly have robbed me. — Common Prayer Book. Rather the cords of the wicked have unfolded me; i.e., their machinations have been directed against me, and not without effect. A cord, however, from its being composed of many strings twisted together, was used metaphorically by the Hebrews, as, the word band is by us, to denote a collection of men: and it is accordingly, in 1 Sam. 10:5, 10, rendered in our English Bible by company, in which sense it is here taken in the version of our Book of Common Prayer, after the Chaldee: the Septuagint gives the literal translation of the word.” — Cresswell.
Archbishop Secker reads, “made up.” “It signifies,” says he, “fastening things together.”
The fat of the human body, as physiologists inform us, is absolutely insensible; the lean membranous parts being those only which are sensitive. Accordingly, fatness of heart is used, with much propriety, to express the insensibility, stupidity, or sensuality of those feelings or affections of which the heart is considered the seat.
Bottles, among the Jews and other nations of the East, were made of goats’ or kids’ skins, as is the custom among the Eastern nations at this day. When the animal was killed, they cut off its feet and head, and drew it, in that manner, out of the skin without opening the belly. They afterwards sewed up the places where the legs were cut off, and the tail, and when it was filled, they tied it about the neck. In these bottles, not only water, milk, and other liquids were put, but every thing intended to be carried to a distance, whether dry or liquid. To these goat-skin vessels a reference is here undoubtedly made. The peasantry of Asia are in the habit of suspending them from the roof, or hanging them against the walls of their tents or humble dwellings: here they soon become quite black with smoke; for, as in their dwellings there are seldom any chimneys, and the smoke can only escape through an aperture in the roof, or by the door, whenever a fire is lighted the apartment is instantly filled with dense smoke. Accordingly, some suppose that the allusion here chiefly is to the blackness which a bottle contracts by hanging in the smoke; and the translators of our English Bible, by referring in the margin to Job 30:30, as parallel to this, seem to have supposed that the Psalmist refers to the blackness his face contracted by sorrow. “But,” says Harmer, “this can hardly be supposed to be the whole of his thought. In such a case, would he not rather have spoken of the blackness of a pot, as it is supposed the prophet Joel does, (Joe 2:6,) rather than to that of a leather bottle?” — Harmer’s Observations, volume 1, page 218. When such bottles are suspended in the smoky tent of an Arab, if they do not contain liquids, or are not quite filled by the solids which they hold, they become dry, shrunk, and shriveled; and to this, as well as to their blackness, the Psalmist may allude. Long-continued bodily affliction and mental trouble produce a similar change on the human frame, destroying its beauty and strength by drying up the natural moisture. It has also been thought that there is a contrast between such mean bottles and the rich vessels of gold and silver which were used in the palaces of kings. “My appearance in the state of my exile is as different from what it was when I dwelt at court, as are the gold and silver vessels of a palace from the smoky skin bottles of a poor Arab’s tent, where I am now compelled to reside.” — Ibid. and Paxton’s Illustrations, volume 2, pages 409, 410.
“Comme a petit feu.” — Fr.
“זדים, the proud. The proud here, as well as in many other parts of Scripture, stands for lawless, wicked men. So the rendering of the LXX. Is παράνομοι; Vulg. Iniqui. The relative, אשר, is referred to שיחות, pits, by many persons, as Amyraldus, who thus paraphrases the latter part of the verse: ‘At retia illa, cum lege tua directe pugnant.’ Others make זדיש the antecedent, of whom they consider the second hemistich as descriptive. The proud, who have not acted according to thy Law, have dug pits for me. The sense is more obvious, according to this latter exposition; for one does not see the force of the phrase, ‘digging pits,’ which are not according to God’s Law, as if pits might be dug which are according to it.” — Phillips
This is the explanation given by Walford. His translation is —
“O Jehovah! for ever
Is thy word established in the heavens.”
Upon which he observes: “The design of these words is by no means obvious, and the interpreters vary greatly in their explications. I have not met with any explanation that is altogether satisfactory, and shall therefore give what appears to me to be the true meaning. The design, in general, of the Psalmist is, to celebrate the immutability of the word of God: whatever He speaks is sure. To illustrate this position, he refers to the creation of the heavens and of the earth; they were alike formed by the word of God, — ‘He spake, and it was done.’ By virtue of that word these vast productions abide through all ages, so that the word of God is established and displayed in heaven and upon earth. As the same word uttered all the precepts and institutions of the law, and all the promises of the covenant of mercy, the unchangeableness of these precepts and promises is verified and manifested by the perpetual conservation of all these instances of physical power and energy.”
“The literal translation is, to the whole of perfection I perceive a limit. The Hebrew word, however, which is rendered by perfection, occurs only in this place. It seems clearly to have for its root a verb signifying to complete, to finish: the meaning is, ‘to every created thing, however perfect, I see a boundary;’ that is, it is limited as to its capability, as well as to its duration.” — Cresswell.
“All human things, however full, perfect, and admirable, are necessarily deficient and mutable; but the law of God, like the nature of him from whom it proceeds, endureth for ever, and is in all respects complete and unalterable. We are to understand by the law here, the whole revealed will of God, comprehensive of promise as well as precept.” — Walford.
"As he had entered into the spiritual nature of the law of God, and saw into the exceeding breadth of the commandment, he soon became wiser than any of the priests, or even prophets who instructed him.” — Dr. Adam Clarke
“I understand more than the ancients. God had revealed to him more of that hidden wisdom, which was in his law, than he had done to any of his predecessors. And this was most literally true of David, who spoke more fully about Christ than any who had gone before him; or, indeed, followed after him. His compositions are, I had almost said, a sublime gospel.” — Ibid.
This proverbial expression occurs in several other places of Scripture, in all of which it undoubtedly signifies, that the life of the person who employs it is in danger; as in Jud 12:3, “And when I saw that ye delivered me not, I put my life in my hands, and passed over against the children of Ammon;” 1Sa 19:5, “He put his life in his hand, and slew the Philistines;” and 1Sa 28:21, “And the woman came unto Saul, and said, I have put my life in my hand.” Phillips thus explains the figure: “We are accustomed to say, that an affair is in a person’s hands when the management and issue of it rest entirely with him, and so we speak when that affair is the life or death of an individual. Hence, similarly, when the Hebrews spoke of a person’s life being in his own hands, they might mean, that the preservation of his life was entirely with him, that he was destitute of all external assistance, and that consequently his life was in danger. This is particularly the case with military men, who, as they fight bravely, or otherwise, may preserve or lose their lives: so Jephthah, as appears from the passages above cited.” The figure may, however, be taken from the circumstance, that what a man carries openly in his hand is in danger of taking, or of being snatched away by violence. “The LXX. have changed the person of the pronoun, ἐν ταῖς χερσι σου; in thy hands; as also the Syriac. It is probable that these ancient interpreters did not understand the phrase, and so expressed it according to what they thought might be the original reading, thus affording a very obvious sense. Augustine says, that many MSS. in his time had the second person. However, no such MSS. are known now, and there is no doubt whatever of the correctness of the present text. The Psalmist states that, though his life was in danger, yet he did not forget God’s law.” — Ibid
Thus, in the Arabic, it is, “on account of an eternal reward;” that is, the reward of grace promised to all the faithful. According to this view, the Psalmist would have a respect to the end and reward of faith and holy obedience. See Heb 11:26; 1 Pet. 1:8, 9. As, however, the Psalmist, like all true believers, did not embrace and obey the law of God, only or chiefly from the hope of reward, but was chiefly attracted to obedience by love to God, and the intrinsic excellence of the law, others prefer reading “the reward is eternal.”
In the Chaldee, it is “vain thinkers;” and thus the meaning would be, “I hate men that think evil, that devise wicked devices, or that have false and evil opinions, opposite to God’s law, or tending to seduce men from it.”
It signifies thoughts in Job 4:14, and Job 20:2; and opinions in 1Ki 18:21: and these may be either good or evil, their character being determined by the context of the passage in which the word occurs.
The sense of the text also requires that the word for thoughts should here be taken in a bad sense, for the Psalmist affirms that he hates them, and sets God’s law in opposition to them. Various epithets have been supplied to describe the character of these thoughts, such as “crooked,” by Calvin, “vain,” by our English version, and “high minded,” by Luther. Ainsworth supplies wavering, observing, that the original term denotes the top branches of trees, which are figuratively applied to the thoughts or opinions of the mind, to denote that they are wavering and uncertain, as 1Ki 18:21; or to persons distracted with their own cogitations. Poole remarks, agreeably to Calvin’s interpretation, that the thoughts, or opinions, or devices of men differing from, or opposite to God’s law, may be intended, since, in the next clause, God’s law is opposed to them, and as some, both Jewish and Christian, expositors understand the Hebrew word.
Dimock thinks that, by this expression, the Psalmist; probably alludes to the Lex Talionis amongst the Jews, and that the Apostle might refer to this passage in 2Th 2:11; where he says, “that God should send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.”
“Before the noun סגים, rendered dross, the particle כ, of similitude, is understood, so that the Psalmist says, ‘Thou hast entirely removed (made to cease) all the wicked of the earth as dross,’ which is removed from metals by fusion, or from corn by winnowing. The society of men is as a mass of metal in which the wicked are as rust and dross. The judgments of God, which are searching, will cause a separation of the dross from the metal, and thus He will destroy the one and preserve the other.” — Phillips
The verb סמר, samar, rendered hath trembled, denotes being seized with horror, so that the hair stands on end. It occurs in Piel in Job 4:15. This state of horror was produced on the mind of the Psalmist by a contemplation of the divine judgments executed on the wicked, who are rejected like dross; and he was thus brought to fear God.