Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 12: Psalms, Part V, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
In this Psalm David congratulates himself and the whole Church upon the fact, that a seat had at length been appointed for the ark of the covenant, and that God had chosen a place where his name should be continually called upon. Afterwards, to incite and encourage the faithful to engage in the worship of the sanctuary, he briefly declares, that the prosperous condition of the people depended upon God’s having chosen the seat of royalty to be at Jerusalem, from whence it was his purpose to defend, maintain, and assist his people.
A Song of Degrees of David. 66
1. I was glad when they said to me, We will go into the house of Jehovah. 2. Our feet shall be 67 standing within thy gates, O Jerusalem! 3. Jerusalem is built as a city, compact in itself together. 68
1 I was glad when they said to me. God had often told Moses, that his Sanctuary would one day have a certain and fixed place of abode; yet from the time of Moses, for the space of more than a thousand years, the Ark of the Covenant had been carried about from place to place, as if it had been in a state of pilgrimage. At length it was revealed to David, that mount Zion was the spot where God would have his ark to be settled, and his temple built. Now, as David himself received this revelation with exceeding great joy, so he affirms that he was glad to find the whole people with one consent agreeing thereto. This circumstance has not been duly considered, and the consequence is, that interpreters have given the unhappy translation—I was glad with those that said to me. Such a rendering, however, only renders the sense a little obscure; but the translation of the Septuagint and the Vulgate, which puts upon the second verb of the verse a neuter signification, entirely vitiates the meaning, I was glad in the things which, were said to me. I indeed admit that literally the reading is—I was glad in those who said to me; but it is no uncommon thing for the letter ב, beth, which commonly signifies in, to be resolved into the adverb of time when; and here the scope of the text requires such a rendering. David testifies that he felt in his heart a double joy on observing that the whole people concurred in yielding obedience to the oracle which declared mount Zion to be the place which God had chosen for his solemn worship. By this example we are taught, that our joy, in like manner, should be doubled, when God by his Holy Spirit not only frames each of us to the obedience of his word, but also produces the same effect upon others, that we may be united together in the same faith. So stubborn and rebellious is human nature, that the great majority of mankind invariably murmur against God whenever he speaks. We have, therefore, no small ground for rejoicing when all harmoniously rank themselves with us on the side of God. Such as translate, with those who said to me, deduce this meaning: I take delight in the company of those who allure me to the service of God, and offer themselves to me as companions, that we may go to the sanctuary together. But from the second verse it will be still more obvious, that the joy of which David speaks proceeded from his seeing the people, with the ready obedience of faith, giving their consent to the utterance of the heavenly oracle, respecting the spot chosen to be the lawful and permanent scat of the ark of the covenant. For it immediately follows —
2. Our feet shall be standing within thy gates, O Jerusalem! In the Hebrew text the verb is indeed in the past tense, which it would not be unsuitable to retain; but as it makes. little difference as to the meaning whether the one reading or the other is adopted, I have no difficulty in leaving my readers to their own choice. David rehearses the language in which all the godly in common expressed themselves — that they should at length stand with sure footing in Jerusalem, because it was the will of God there to establish his Sanctuary, which hitherto had often changed its lodgings, and had been carried from place to place. By such a pilgrimage state of the ark, God reminded the people that he had not without cause spoken by Moses what I have a little ago adverted to. Thus, whenever the ark of the covenant was conveyed from one place to another, God thereby stirred up the hearts of his servants to desire and pray that a certain settled place might be appointed to it. Moreover, this fixing of its seat was not a matter of small moment. As while it was frequently changing its abode, the faith of the people hung in suspense, so after God had chosen for it a permanent residence, he by this testified more unequivocally that he would be the ever, lasting and unchangeable protector of his people. It is, therefore, not surprising to find the faithful gratefully acknowledging that their feet, which had hitherto been wont to run from place to place, should henceforth stand steadfast within the gates of Jerusalem. The ark, it is true, dwelt a long time in Shiloh, (1Sa 1:3,) but God having made no promise concerning that place, it could not be the permanent abode of that symbol of the divine presence. On the contrary, since, as we shall see on Psalm 132:14, it was said of mount Zion — “This is my rest for ever,” the faithful, depending upon that promise, confidently boast that their feet shall hereafter be at rest and stand firm. Farther, as Christ,
“in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily,” (Col 2:9,)
and who is our true Immanuel, (Isa 7:14,) now resides amongst us, he has furnished us with matter of more abundant joy. We are, therefore, ungrateful and stupid, if that promise —
“Lo, I am wit you always, even unto the end of the world,”
does not ravish us with exceeding joy, and especially if we see it in any place received publicly and with common consent. What I have just now quoted concerning the rest or repose of the Lord, has been at length accomplished in the person of Christ, as is evident from Isa 11:10 — “His rest shall be glorious;” where the Prophet does not speak of the burial of Christ, as some interpreters erroneously suppose, but of the future distinction of the Church.
3. Jerusalem is built as a city. Here David begins to celebrate the praises of Jerusalem; and he does this with the design of encouraging the people to persevere with uniform steadfastness in their obedience. It was of great importance for the minds of the godly, instead of being drawn hither and thither, to be kept constantly fixed on that city, which was the bond of a holy unity. When the people came to be divided into two bodies, that was the commencement of melancholy devastation. It is not surprising, then, to find David commending with such earnestness the place which God had chosen, knowing, as he did, that the prosperity of the Church depended upon the children of Abraham worshipping God there in purity, according to the appointed observances of the law; and next, upon their acknowledging the royal seat which the same God had erected there by his own authority, and had taken under his own protection When it is said that Jerusalem is built as a city, it is not to be understood as referring only to the walls, or towers, or ditches of that city, but chiefly to the good order and holy polity by which it was distinguished, although I allow that there is some allusion to its ancient state. Salem, indeed, had been a noted town even from the beginning; but when God selected it to be the head of the kingdom, it changed its appearance, and in a manner its nature, so that then it began to deserve the name of a well-regulated city. At first sight it may seem a poor commendation to call Jerusalem a city; but it is to be observed that it is here exhibited as it were standing alone in the whole world — taking the precedence of all other cities, which will in vain attempt to equal it. David, certainly, in thus speaking, does not intend to divest other cities of the rank to which they may be entitled, but he raises Jerusalem higher, that it may appear conspicuous above them all, even as we find Isaiah, (Isa 2:2,) when speaking of mount Zion, asserting that it “shall be established in the top of the mountains, and. shall be exalted above the hills.” In that passage the Prophet, to magnify this little hill, brings down the loftiest mountains of the world, that they may not obscure its glory. In like manner David here affirms that Jerusalem is compacted as a city, to induce the faithful, instead of gazing in all directions around them, to rest contented with the city which God had chosen, since they would nowhere find its equal. After having humbled all other cities, he shows, in a few words, the excellence of Jerusalem, representing it as regularly built, or fitly and neatly joined together in all its parts. Some take these words as expressing literally and without figure, that its citizens live together in peace and unity; but I see no impropriety in supposing that they describe, metaphorically, the peaceable state of a city. Thus the mutual concord which reigns among the citizens of a city, and by which they are united to each other, is compared to buildings, compacted together by a skillful and elegant workmanship, so that there is nothing imperfect, in joined together, or rent, but throughout a beautiful harmony’. By this David teaches us, that the Church can only remain in a state of safety when unanimity prevails in her, and when, being joined together by faith and charity, she cultivates a holy unity.
4. Thither the tribes ascended, the tribes of God, for a testimony to Israel, 69 to praise the name of Jehovah. 5. For there were set thrones for judgment, the thrones of the house of David.
4. Thither the tribes ascended. David here invests Jerusalem with two titles of honor, calling it the sacred and regularly appointed place for calling upon the name of God; and next, the royal sea, to which the whole people were to have recourse for obtaining justice. All our salvation depends upon these two points; first, that Christ has been given to us to be our priest; and, secondly, that he has been established king to govern us. This God showed to his ancient people under figures. The sanctuary erected on mount Zion was intended to keep their faith fixed upon the spiritual priesthood of Christ; and in like manner, by the kingdom of David, there was presented to their view an image of the kingdom of Christ. The Psalmist, therefore, says in the first place, that the tribes or families of God shall come to Jerusalem; and then he immediately adds, that there the seat of judgment is erected, on which he and his posterity will sit. The reason why it was the will of God that there should be only one temple and one altar was, that the people might not fall away to various superstitions. David therefore here declares that this place was appointed by God’s own mouth, that all the families of God, or the twelve tribes, might there assemble from all quarters. To express more plainly how important it was, for this form of God’s worship to be preserved pure and complete, he says that it was for a testimony The noun employed comes from the verb עוד, ud, which signifies to bear witness, or to covenant. Now by the word in this place is denoted a mutual declaration or agreement between God and the people. When the tribes shall come thither, says the Prophet substantially, it will not be at random, because their fancy thus leads them, but because God by his own mouth invites them. The amount therefore is, that the holy assemblies which shall be kept at Jerusalem will not be vain and unprofitable, since God has made a covenant with his people, determining and appointing that place for his service. Whence we learn, that in judging of the true temple of God, it is necessary to take into account the doctrine taught. With respect to the time in which David lived, as God had adopted the Jewish people, and as it was his will that they should be employed in the external worship of his name, he prescribed to them a rule from which it was unlawful for them to deviate. Thus when the faithful assembled on mount Zion, it was not foolishness or inconsiderate zeal, or the impulse of their own minds, which brought them thither, as if they resembled those men whom we daily see inventing for themselves, out of their own heads, numberless kinds of divine worship; but they were led thither by the command of God, that they might worship him on mount Zion, by which word the Prophet intimates, that all other temples are unholy, and all other religions perverse and corrupt, because they do not correspond with the rule laid down in God’s word. He next subjoins the end of this contract or covenant, which was that the name of God might be praised. And, indeed, as to yield to God the glory of all good things is the end of our adoption, so it is the end of all our actions.
5. For there were set thrones for judgment. He means, that the throne of the kingdom was fixed or established at Jerusalem, or that there it had its permanent seat. Among that people some order of judgments had always existed. these, however, had formerly been in an unsettled state, and frequently changed, but God at length ordained, in the person of David, a new government which should flow in a continual course; for it was his will that the children of David should succeed their father in this royal dignity from age to age until the coming of Christ. The Prophet has a little before spoken of the Temple and the priesthood; and now he affirms, that this kingdom, which God had erected, will be firm and stable; in order to distinguish it from all the other kingdoms of the world, which are not only temporary, but also frail and subject to a variety of changes. This everlastingness of the kingdom has been expressly confirmed by other Prophets in various parts of their’ writings, and not without cause; for the object was, to teach the faithful that God would be the guardian of their welfare only upon the supposition of their remaining under the protection and defense of David, and that, therefore, if they desired to continue in safety and to prosper, they should not make for themselves new kings at their own pleasure, but should live quietly under that kind of government which God had set up among them. The repetition of the word throne is emphatic. There, says the Psalmist, the throne of judgment and equity is erected. Then he adds, the throne of the house of David; for it was the will of God that the right and prerogative of reigning should continue in David’s posterity, until the true everlastingness of this kingdom should be manifested in the person of Christ.
6. Pray ye for the peace of Jerusalem: may those who love thee prosper 7. Peace be within thy bulwarks 70 prosperity 71 within thy towers! 8. For the sake of my brethren and neighbors, I will now say, Peace be within thee! 9. Because of the house of Jehovah our God, I will seek thy good.
6. Pray ye for the peace of Jerusalem. David now exhorts all the devout worshippers of God to make supplication for the prosperity of the holy city. The more effectually to stir them up to such exercise, he promises that, in this way the divine blessing will descend upon them. The reason why he was so deeply concerned about the prosperity of Jerusalem was, as we have formerly stated — and he again repeats the same thing at the end of the Psalm—because the welfare of the whole Church was inseparably connected with that kingdom and priesthood. Now as each of us in particular, were the whole Church to be involved in ruin, must necessarily perish miserably, it is not surprising to find David recommending to all the children of God to cultivate this anxious concern about the Church. If we would order our prayers aright, let us always begin with pleading that the Lord would be pleased to preserve this sacred community. Whoever, confining his attention to his own personal advantage, is indifferent about the common weal, he not only gives evidence that he is destitute of all true feeling of godliness, but in vain desires his own prosperity, and will profit nothing by his prayers, since he does not observe the due order. 72 Similar is the drift of the promise which is added immediately after: They shall prosper that love thee; which, however, may be read in the form of a wish, May those who love thee prosper But the sense in either case is almost the same. Farther, although the Hebrew verb שלה, shalah, which the Prophet here uses, signifies to live in quietness or peace, yet as the Hebrew noun for peace, from which it is derived, is employed by him generally for a joyful and happy condition, I have no doubt that he here announces in general to all the godly who have the well being of the Church near their heart, that they shall enjoy the blessing of God and a prosperous life. This sentence frequently occurs in the Prophecies of Isaiah, from the 54th chapter to the end of the book (Isaiah 54-66). Hence we learn that the curse of God rests upon all such as afflict the Church, or plot and endeavor by any kind of mischief to accomplish its destruction.
7. Peace be within thy bulwarks, etc. The two clauses express the same sentiment, and, therefore, the meaning of the first is gathered from the second. The term peace signifies nothing else than prosperity. The noun שלוה, shalvah, in the second clause, sometimes signifies rest, but it is more frequently taken for abundance or prosperity On this. account I have translated the noun בחילך, bechelech, within thy bulwark 73 I do not find fault with others who have translated it a ditch or outward wall; but the word bulwark agrees better with the word towers, which occurs at the close of the verse. The amount is, that David prays for the prosperity of the Church through its whole extent. Moreover, it is to be noticed, that when he offers supplication for its external prosperity, it is not to be understood as implying that he was unconcerned about its internal state or spiritual well being; but under the similitude of walls, 74 he wishes that on all sides the blessing of God may environ and fortify the holy city.
8. For the sake of my brethren and neighbors. He specifies two causes on account of which he felt a care about the Church, for the purpose of stirring up, by his example, all the faithful to exercise the same care. These words, however, seem to contain a tacit contrast. Among the wicked and malicious he might be the object of suspicion, or, at least, he was in danger of being slandered; as if, in commending Jerusalem, he had rather an eye to his own particular advantage than to the public welfare. In order, therefore, to remove all ground for objecting, that in thus speaking he was craftily endeavoring to establish his own kingdom, he protests, that he is not influenced by personal considerations, but by a concern for the whole Church, which he embraced with a sincere affection of heart. I will speak, says he, O Jerusalem! of thy peace, not because it will be profitable for me or mine, but because thy prosperity shall extend itself to all the children of God; for under the term brethren he doubtless comprehends all believers that he did so, because the worship of God so far from remaining entire would go to ruin unless Jerusalem continued standing. If then the salvation of our brethren is regarded by us as an object of importance, if religion is with us a matter of heart-work, we ought, at the same time, as much as in us lies, to take an interest in the prosperity of the Church. Whence it follows, that such as are indifferent about her condition, are no less cruel than impious; for if she is “the pillar and foundation of truth,” the inevitable consequence of her destruction must be the extinction of true piety. And if the body is destroyed, how can each of the members fail to be involved in destruction? Farther, this passage teaches us, that the Church is not an empty title, but must be sought for where the true religion prevails. Whence it appears, how foolish the Papists are, who, notwithstanding their having rejected and overthrown the doctrine of the Gospel, yet mightily boast of the name of the Church.
9. Because of the house of Jehovah our God, etc. In this verse he adds a second reason why he cared for the Church — that he did so, because the worship of God so far from remaining entire would go to ruin unless Jerusalem continued standing. If then the salvation of our brethren is regarded by us as an object of importance, if religion is with us a matter of heart-work, we ought, at the same time, as much as in us lies, to take an interest in the prosperity of the Church. Whence it follows, that such are indifferent about her condition, are no less cruel than impious; for if she is “the pillar and foundation of truth,” the inevitable consequence of her destruction must be the extinction of true piety. And if the body is destroyed, how can each of the members fail to be involved in destruction? Farther, this passage teaches us that the Church is not an empty title, but must be sought for where the true religion prevails. Whence it appears, how foolish the Papists are, who, notwithstanding their having rejected and overthrown the doctrine of the Gospel, yet mightily boast of the name of the Church.
“The burden of the Psalm,” says Jebb, “is שלום ‘peace.’ The play upon the words is very remarkable: שם, ‘there,’ and שם, ‘the name,’ lines 5 and 6; שבטים, ‘tribes,’ line 5 משפט, line 7. Then in line 9, and those. which follow: שאלו, ‘pray;’ שלום, ‘peace;’ ירושלם, ‘Jerusalem;’ ישליו, ‘shall prosper;’ שלוה ‘prosperity.’” — Jebb’s Literal Translation of the Psalters, with Dissertations, volume 1. Speaking in reference to the author of the Psalm, and to the opinion held by some critics, that it was composed about the time or’ the restoration of the Jews from Babylon, he says —”The extraordinary play upon words already noticed might argue a later period of composition: [than the time of David]. Still I cannot but think that the title assigning the Psalm to him is borne out by internal evidence of a stronger kind. The fond mention of Jerusalem, David’s beloved city; the thrones of the house of David; and the recurrence of peace, which was so emphatically promised to David, as the blessing about to be conferred on his son Solomon, are all circumstances, which, taken in connection, stamp this song with a character evidently belonging to the reign of the royal Psalmist ” — Ibid., volume 2.
“Ou, ont este. — Fr. marg. “Or, have been.”
Literally, Jerusalem built as a city, that is joined to itself together’, i.e. the several parts of which are connected with each other, so as to form one compact whole. Before David’s time, Zion was not a part of Jerusalem, neither it seems was Millo: but he added them to the city, and enclosed them within its wall. (2 Sam. 5:7, 9; 1 Chr. 11:7, 8.) Solomon afterwards added the hill of Moria, on which his temple was built, to Jerusalem.” — Cresswell.
Walford translates —”According to the institution of Israel.” Phillips adopts a similar rendering, which he supports by the following: note: — “עדות, testimony, and thence a statute or law. Amyraldus says — ‘Quacunque re Deus voluntatem suam significet, id Dei testimonium solet appellari.’ The particle כ should be understood as prefixed to this word. The statute spoken of here is that which is found in Ex 23:17, and De 16:16, enjoining the tribes of Israel to assemble together before the Lord at the three great feasts. The place of their assembling was that which God chose for the residence of the ark, which was first at Shiloh, and afterwards at Jerusalem.” Bishop Horne, and French and Skinner read — “According to the testimony given unto Israel,” which brings out exactly the same meaning — testimony denoting, as they explain it, the injunction given to the Israelites in that passage in Deuteronomy quoted above.
“Within thy walls. Josephus tells us, that there were at Jerusalem three ranges of walls surrounding the city. The sense of the passage is, ‘May no enemy approach even to thy out-works to disturb thy prosperity’” — Warner.
“Ou, abondance.” — Fr marg. “Or, abundance.”
“Et ne proufiter arien par ses prieres, d’autant qu’il n’observe point l’ordre legitime ” — Fr.
Calvin’s meaning is, that as the nouns peace and prosperity have a corresponding signification, he was of opinion, that there existed a similar correspondence between the other two nouns.
The Latin copy here reads, “sed ad mores alludens;” but mores is evidently a typographical error for muros The French version has “mais sous ceste similitude des murs ”