Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 12: Psalms, Part V, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
In this Psalm, the faithful oppressed with the cruel tyranny of their enemies, beseech God to deliver them, there being no other source of hope left for them except in his protection.
A Song of Degrees.
1. I lift up my eyes to thee, who dwellest in the heavens. 2. Behold! as the eyes of servants look 75 to the hand of their roadsters; as the eyes of a handmaid look to the hand of her mistress, so do our eyes to Jehovah our God, until he have mercy upon us. 3. Have mercy upon us O Jehovah have mercy upon us; for we are greatly cloyed with reproach. 4. Our soul is in itself greatly cloyed with the mockery of men who are rich, and with the contempt of the proud.
1. I lift my eyes to thee, who dwellest in the heavens. It is uncertain at what time, or even by what Prophet, this Psalm was composed. I do not think it probable that David was its author; because, when he bewails the persecutions which he suffered in the time of Saul, it is usual with him to inter-pose some particular references to himself. My opinion, then, rather is, that this form of prayer was composed for all the godly by some Prophet, either when the Jews were captives in Babylon, or when Antiochus Epiphanes exercised towards them the most relentless cruelty. Be this as it may, the Holy Spirit, by whose inspiration the Prophet delivered it to the people, calls upon us to have recourse to God, when — ever wicked men unrighteously and proudly persecute, not one or two of the faithful only, but the whole body of the Church. Moreover, God is here expressly called the God who dwelleth in the heavens, not simply to teach his people to estimate the divine power as it deserves, but also that, when no hope of aid is left for them on earth, yea rather, when their condition is desperate, just as if they were laid in the grave, or as if they were lost in a labyrinth, they should then remember that the power of God remains in heaven in unimpaired and infinite perfection. Thus these words seem to contain a tacit contrast between the troubled and confused state of this world and God’s heavenly kingdom, from whence he so manages and governs all things, that whenever it pleases him, he calms all the agitations of the world, comes to the rescue of the desperate and the despairing, restores light by dispelling darkness, and raises up such as were cast down and laid prostrate on the ground. This the Prophet confirms by the verb lift up; which intimates, that although all worldly resources fail us, we must raise our eyes upward to heaven, where God remains unchangeably the same, despite the mad impetuosity of men in turning all things here below upside down.
2. Behold as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters. This similitude is very suitable to the present case. It implies that without the protection of God true believers have no comfort, are completely disarmed and exposed to all manner of wrongs, have neither strength nor courage to resist; in short, that their safety depends entirely upon aid derived from another. We know how shamefully servants were treated in ancient times, and what reproaches might be cast upon them, whilst yet they durst not move a finger to repel the outrage. Being therefore deprived of all means of defending themselves, the only thing which remained for them to do was, what is here stated, to crave the protection of their masters. The same explanation is equally applicable to the case of handmaids Their condition was indeed shameful and degrading; but there is no reason why we should be ashamed of, or offended at being compared to slaves, provided God is our defender, and takes our life under his guardianship; God, I say, who purposely disarms us and strips us of all worldly aid, that we may learn to rely upon his grace, and to be contented ‘with it alone. It having been anciently a capital crime for bond-men to carry a sword or any other weapon about them, and as they were exposed to injuries of every description, their masters were wont to defend them with so much the more spirit, when any one causelessly did them violence. Nor can it be doubted that God, when he sees us placing an exclusive dependence upon his protection, and renouncing all confidence in our own resources, will as our defender encounter, and shield us from all the molestation that shall be offered to us. It is, however, certain that we have here properly the description of a period in which the people of God were reduced to a state of extreme necessity, and brought even to the brink of despair. As to the word hand, it is very well known to be put for help. 76
3. Have mercy upon us, O Jehovah! etc. The Psalmist prosecutes and confirms the preceding doctrine. He had said that the godly, finding themselves utterly broken in spirit and cast down, intently directed their eyes to the hand of God: now he adds that they are filled with reproach. From this we learn that the wicked not only assaulted them by such ways of violence as suggested themselves to their minds, but that by their mockery they as it were trampled under foot the children of God. The repetition of the prayer, Have mercy upon us, which is a sign of vehement and ardent desire, indicates that they were reduced to the last degree of misery. When insult is added to wrongs, there is nothing which inflicts a deeper wound upon well constituted minds. The Prophet therefore complains chiefly of that, as if it were the consummation of all calamities. He says that rich and proud men treated the Church with insolent triumph; for it commonly happens that those who are elevated hi the world, look down with contempt upon the people of God. The lustre of their he. hour and power dazzles their eyes, so that they make no account of God’s spiritual kingdom: yea, the more the wicked prosper and are smiled on by fortune, to the greater extent does their pride swell, and the more violently does it throw off its foam. This passage teaches us, that it is no new thing for the Church to be held in contempt by the children of this world who abound in riches. The epithet proud is justly applied to the same persons who are described as rich; for wealth engenders pride of heart. Farther, as we see that in old time the Church of God was covered with reproaches, and pointed at with the finger of scorn, we ought not to be discouraged if the world despise us, nor should we allow our faith to be shaken by the wicked when they assault us with their scoffs, yea, even defame us with their injurious and insulting language. We must always bear in mind what is here recorded, that the heart not of one man only, or of a few, but of the whole Church, was filled not merely with the violence, cruelty, craft, and other evil doings of the wicked, but also with reproaches and mockery. It is also to be remembered, that all the loftiness and pride existing in the world are here represented as in opposition to the Church, so that she is accounted as nothing better than “the filth of the world and the offscouring of all things,” as the Apostle Paul declares in 1 Corinthians. 4:13. When the same thing happens to us at the present day, let us leave the wicked to swell with their pride until they burst; and let it suffice us to know, that we are notwithstanding precious in the sight of God. By the verb cloy, especially as it is emphatically repeated, the Prophet intended to express a long continued oppression, which filled the hearts of the godly with weariness and sorrow. How necessary the lesson taught in this text is in our own day, it requires no lengthened discussion to demonstrate. We see the Church destitute of all worldly protection, and lying under the feet of her enemies, who abound in riches, and are armed with dreadful power. We see the Papists boldly rising up, and with all their might pouring forth their mockeries against us and the whole service of God. On the other hand, there are mingled amongst us, and flying about everywhere, Epicureans, who deride our simplicity. There are also many giants, who overwhelm us with reproaches; and this baseness has lasted from the time that the Gospel began to emerge from the corruption’s of Popery even to the present day. What then remains to be done, but that, finding ourselves environed with darkness on all sides, we seek the light of life in heaven? and that our soul, although it may be filled to satiety with all kinds of reproaches, breathe forth prayers to God for deliverance with the importunity of the famished?
“Look” is a supplement taken from the French version.
“Unto the hand of their masters — if we retain the word hand, it must be taken in the well-known sense which it sometimes bears of side or quarter: and the original word is used (Ex 2:5) in the same sense. The phrase will then simply mean, that the eyes of servants look towards their masters, and this agrees with — so our eyes wait upon the Lord. But the Hebrew word also signifies power, (as in De 32:36,) which may very well be substituted for. hand in this place, the notion being that servants when they are in danger or in distress look to the power of their masters for assistance; and in general expect from them subsistence and defense.” — Cresswell.