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1. Blessed is he that judgeth wisely of the poor. Interpreters are generally of opinion that the exercise of kindness and compassion manifested in taking care of the miserable, and helping them, is here commended. Those, however, who maintain that the Psalmist here commends the considerate candour of those who judge wisely and charitably of men in adversity, form a better judgment of his meaning. Indeed, the participle משכיל, maskil, cannot be explained in any other way. At the same time, it ought to be observed on what account it is that David declares those to be blessed who form a wise and prudent judgment concerning the afflictions by which God chastises his servants. We have said that he had to contend in his own heart against the perverse judgments of foolish and wicked men, because, when affliction was pressing heavily upon him, many considered that he had fallen into a desperate condition, and was altogether beyond the hope of recovery. Doubtless, it happened to him as it did to the holy patriarch Job, whom his friends reckoned to be one of the most wicked of men, when they saw God treating him with great severity. And certainly it is an error which is by far too common among men, to look upon those who are oppressed with afflictions as condemned and reprobate. As, on the one hand, the most of men, judging of the favor of God from an uncertain and transitory state of prosperity, applaud the rich, and those upon whom, as they say, fortune smiles; so, on the other hand, they act contemptuously towards the wretched and miserable, and foolishly imagine that God hates them, because he does not exercise so much forbearance towards them as he does towards the reprobate. The error of which we speak, namely, that of judging wrongfully and wickedly, is one which has prevailed in all ages of the world. The Scriptures in many places plainly and distinctly declare, that God, for various reasons, tries the faithful by adversities, at one time to train them to patience, at another to subdue the sinful affections of the flesh, at another to cleanse, and, as it were, purify them from the remaining desires of the flesh, which still dwell within them; sometimes to humble them, sometimes to make them an example to others, and at other times to stir them up to the contemplation of the divine life. For the most part, indeed, we often speak rashly and indiscriminately concerning others, and, so to speak, plunge even into the lowest abyss those who labor under affliction. To restrain such a rash and unbridled spirit, David says that they are blessed who do not suffer themselves, by speaking at random, to judge harshly of their neighbors; but, discerning aright the afflictions by which they are visited, mitigate, by the wisdom of the Spirit, the severe and unjust judgments to which we are naturally so prone. I have just adduced as an example the case of Job, whom his friends, when they saw him involved in extreme misery, hesitated not to account an outcast, and one whose case was altogether hopeless. (101) If any one endued with candour, and possessed of a humane disposition, should meet with such a case, he would regard it in the exercise of the same discretion which David here commends. As to ourselves, being admonished by this testimony of the Holy Spirit, let us learn to guard against a too precipitate judgment. We must therefore judge prudently of our brethren who are in affliction; that is to say, we must hope well of their salvation, lest, if we condemn them unmercifully before the time, this unjust severity in the end fall upon our own heads. It ought, however, especially to be observed, what indeed I have already noticed, that the object which David had in view, when he saw himself, as it were, overwhelmed by the malicious and cruel judgments which were expressed concerning him, was to fortify himself by this as a ground of consolation, lest he should sink under the temptation. If, therefore, at any time Satan should endeavor to destroy the foundation of our faith, by the rash and presumptuous judgments of men, let us also learn to have recourse to this device of wisdom, lest unawares we fall into despair. This is the proper use of the doctrine contained in this passage.
The Lord will deliver him in the day of evil. Some connect these words, in the day of evil, with the preceding clause; and the reading thus suggested might indeed be admitted; but the distinction which I have followed is better adapted to the sense, and is also supported by the Hebrew accent. Thus at least the doctrine deducible from these words is susceptible of a fuller meaning, namely, that the Lord will deliver the poor in the day of his adversity. Some think that David here prays for a blessing in behalf of the upright and compassionate; as if he had said, May the Lord himself recompense them again for their kindness, if at any time it happen that they are grievously afflicted! Others suppose that David here records the language of such men from which we may come to the knowledge of their wisdom and uprightness. In my opinion, however, both are equally in error in reading this clause in the form of a desire or prayer. Whether, indeed, David speaks in his own name, or in the name of others, he briefly recommends and enjoins the kindness which we ought to exercise towards the afflicted; for although God may for a time manifest his displeasure against them, yet he will, nevertheless, be gracious to them, so that the issue will at length be happier and more joyful than the judgment we might be led to form from the present aspect of things. We now see that the sense in which I have explained this verse is much more copious and fuller of meaning, namely, that we ought to hope for salvation and deliverance from the hand of the Lord, even in the day of adversity; for otherwise, no man who had once fallen into a state of sorrow and sadness would ever be able to rise again. And this I say, because the design of the Holy Spirit in this passage is not only to exhort the faithful to be ready in showing kindness towards their brethren when they see them in affliction, but also to point out the remedy which has been provided for the mitigation of our sorrow, whenever our faith is shaken by adversity.
(101) “ Pour un homme reprouve et forclos d’esperance de salut.” — Fr.
2. Jehovah will keep him, and preserve him in life. Here David follows out the same sentiment expressed in the preceding verse, when he says that the Lord will keep the afflicted, whose destruction cruel and unjust men represent as inevitable. It is likewise necessary always to bear in mind the contrast which is stated between the day of evil and the blessing of deliverance. In this verse the expressions denoting restoration to life, and blessedness on the earth, are of similar import. By these expressions, David means to show that although he had been to all appearance a dead man, yet the hope of life both for himself and for all the faithful had not been extinguished. There might, it is true, appear some inconsistency in his promising himself a happy life in this world, seeing our condition here would be miserable indeed if we had not the expectation of a better state in the world to come. But the answer to this is, that as many had despaired of his recovery, he expressly declares that he will yet be restored to his former state, and will continue alive, nay, that in him there will be seen manifest tokens of the favor of God. He does not in the least exclude by these expressions the hope of a better life after death. What follows concerning the bed of sorrow has led some to form a conjecture which, in my opinion, is not at all probable. What David says of affliction in general, without determining what kind of affliction, they regard as applicable exclusively to sickness. But it is no uncommon thing for those who are sorrowful and grieved in their minds to throw themselves upon their bed, and to seek repose; for the hearts of men are sometimes more distressed by grief than by sickness. It is, certainly, highly probable that David was at that time afflicted with some very heavy calamity, which might be a token that God was not a little displeased with him. In the second clause of the verse there is some obscurity. Some understand the expression, turning the bed, in the same sense as if God, in order to give some alleviation to his servant in the time of trouble, had made his bed and arranged it, as we are wont to do to those who are sick, that they may lay themselves more softly. (102) Others hold, and, in my opinion, more correctly, that when David was restored to health, his bed, which had formerly served him as a sick couch, was turned, that is to say, changed. (103) Thus the sense would be, that although he now languish in sorrow, whilst the Lord is chastening him and training him by means of affliction, yet in a little while he will experience relief by the hand of the same God, and thus recover his strength.
(102) Viewed in this sense, the passage is very beautiful and highly consolatory. How refreshing is it in sickness to have the bed turned and made anew! and this is the way in which God refreshes and relieves the merciful man in his sickness. He acts towards him the part of a kind nurse, turning and shaking his whole couch, and thus making it easy and comfortable for him.
(103) “ C’est a dire, change.”
4. I have said, O Jehovah! have mercy upon me. By this verse he shows that in his adversity he did not seek to soothe his mind by flattery, as the greater part of men do, who endeavor to assuage their sorrows by some vain consolation. And, certainly, the man who is guided by the Spirit of God will, when warned of God by the afflictions with which he is visited, frankly acknowledge his sins, and quietly submit to the admonitions of his brethren, nay, he will even anticipate them by a voluntary confession. David here lays down a mark by which he distinguishes himself from the reprobate and wicked, when he tells us that he earnestly entreated that his sin might not be laid to his charge, and that he had sought refuge in the mercy of God. He indeed requests that some alleviation might be granted to him under the affliction which he endured: but he rises to a higher source of relief, when he asks that through the forgiveness of his sins he might obtain reconciliation to God. Those, as we have said elsewhere, invert the natural order of things, who seek a remedy only for the outward miseries under which they labor, but all the while neglect the cause of them; acting as a sick man would do who sought only to quench his thirst, but never thought of the fever under which he labors, and which is the chief cause of his trouble. Before David, therefore, speaks at all of the healing of his soul, that is to say, of his life (104) he first says, Have mercy upon me: and with this we must connect the reason which immediately follows — for I have sinned against thee. In saying so, he confesses that God is justly displeased with him, and that he can only be restored again to his favor by his sins being blotted out. I take the particle כי, ki, in its proper and natural signification, and not adversatively, as some would understand it. He asks then that God would have mercy upon him because he had sinned. From that proceeds the healing of the soul, which he interposes between his prayer and confession, as being the effect of the compassion and mercy of God; for David expects that as soon as he had obtained forgiveness, he would also obtain relief from his affliction.
(104) “ C’est a dire, de sa vie.” — Fr.
5. My enemies have spoken evil of me. To speak is here used in the sense of to imprecate. In thus describing the unbecoming conduct of his enemies, he seeks, as has been elsewhere said, to induce God to have mercy upon him: because the more that God sees his own people cruelly treated, he is so much the more disposed mercifully to succor them. Thus David, by his own example, stirs up and encourages us to greater confidence in God; because the more that our enemies break forth in their cruelty towards us, so much the more does it procure for us favor in the sight of God. The terms in which his enemies uttered this imprecation show how cruel their hatred had been towards him, since it could only be appeased by his destruction, and that, too, accompanied with shame and ignominy; for they wished that with his life the very remembrance of his name should also be blotted out.
6. And if he come to see me, he speaketh lies. What is contained in this verse relates to his false and treacherous friends. Those who were his professed enemies made no secret of their enmity against him, but openly persecuted him; and that he has already shown in the preceding verse. In addition to this, he now complains that many came to him with professions of attachment to him, as if they had been his friends, who, nevertheless, afterwards poured forth their malicious ill-will in secret against him. Enemies of this sort, who thus cover and conceal their malice, and insinuate themselves under the mask of a fair appearance, only for the purpose of secretly doing us mischief, are indeed much more to be feared than those who openly declare their wicked intentions. Accordingly, having complained of his open enemies, he proceeds to speak of his pretended friends, of whom he declares that they come to see him with no other design than to speak lies, and yet that they are meanwhile devising some deceitful and malicious purpose against him, nay, that they are even secretly heaping up iniquity, and, so to speak, laying it up in store in their hearts; and then he adds, that when they have gone forth from his presence, they manifest their hypocrisy and deceitfulness.
7. All they that hate me whisper together against me. Here he seems generally to include both classes of his enemies; those who sought to oppress him in an open manner, and in the character of avowed enemies; and those who, under the pretense of friendship, attempted to do the same thing by deceit and stratagem. Accordingly, he says that all of them took counsel together about his destruction, just as we know that wicked men hold much secret consultation respecting their intended deeds of treachery, and whisper to one another concerning them. Hence he adds the words to meditate, or plot, which he employs to denote their base conspiracies and sinful consultations.
8. An evil deed of Belial cleaved fast to him. From this verse it appears that they had thus conspired together for his destruction, on the ground that they regarded him as a wicked man, and a person worthy of a thousand deaths. The insolence and arrogance which they manifested towards him proceeded from the false and wicked judgment which they had formed concerning him, and of which he made mention in the beginning of the psalm. They say, therefore, that an evil deed of Belial holds him shut up, and, as it were, bound fast. This the verb יצוק, yatsuk, properly signifies; but in translating the verse I have followed the rendering which is most commonly received, reading cleaveth fast to him, etc. This expression is by others rendered spreadeth upon him, but this interpretation seems to me to be too constrained. As to the word Belial, we have already spoken of it in the eighteenth psalm. But as grammarians maintain that it is compounded of בלי, beli, and יעל, yaäl, which signify not to rise, the expression, thing of Belial, (for so it is literally in the Hebrew,) I understand in this place as meaning an extraordinary and hateful crime, which, as we commonly say, can never be expiated, and from which there is no possibility of escape; unless, perhaps, some would rather refer it to the affliction itself under which he labored, as if his enemies had said that he was seized by some incurable malady. (105) But whatever may be as to this, his enemies regarded it as absolutely certain that God was altogether hostile to him, and would never be reconciled towards him, since he was chastising him with so much severity. When they add in the following clause, he shall never be able to rise again, (106) this clearly shows that they utterly cut off from him all hope of recovery. And certainly it was a sore temptation to David, who had in himself the testimony of a good conscience, to think that he was regarded by men as one who was pursued by the vengeance of God, nay, that they even cast him headlong into hell. But it pleased God thus to try his servant, that, trusting to the testimony of his own conscience, he should pay no regard to what men might say, or be troubled by the reproaches they might cast upon him. It was also his design to teach us, by his example, that we must seek the reward of our righteousness elsewhere than in this world, since we see with what unequal balances the world often sets itself to estimate the difference between virtue and vice.
(105) There seems some difficulty as to what is meant by the words לעיעל, debar beliyaäl They are literally a word of Belial But word in Hebrew is often used for a thing or matter, Exodus 18:16; Deuteronomy 17:4; Genesis 14:13. And Belial is used by the Hebrews to designate any detestable wickedness. Thus the original words bring out the meaning which Calvin fixes upon them; and in the same sense they are understood by several critics. Dr Geddes reads “a lawless deed;” and he explains the expression as referring to “David’s sin in the case of Uriah; which his enemies now assign as the cause of his present calamity; as if they had said, ‘This sin hath at length overtaken him,’ etc.” Horsley reads, “Some cursed thing presseth heavily upon him;” and by “some cursed thing” he understands “the crime which they supposed to be the cause of the divine judgment upon him.” Fry reads, “Some hellish crime cleaveth unto him.” Cresswell adopts the interpretation of M. Flaminius: “They say, Some load of iniquity presses upon him, (or clings to him,) so that from the place where he lieth he will rise no more.” But there is another sense which the words will bear. The Septuagint reads, “ λόγος παράνομος;” the Vulgate, “a wicked word;” the Chaldee, “a perverse word;” the Syriac, “a word of iniquity;” and the Arabic, “words contrary to law;” and so the expression may mean a grievous slander or calumny. This is the sense in which it is understood by Hammond. “And this,” says he, “is said to cleave to him on whom it is fastened; it being the nature of calumnies, when strongly affixed on any, to cleave fast, and leave some evil mark behind them: “ Calumniare fortiter, aliquid hoerebit .” In our vulgar version it is “an evil disease.” And דבר, debar, no doubt sometimes signifies a plague or pestilence According to this rendering, the sense will be, he is smitten with an evil disease on account of his crimes, from which he will never recover.
(106) So Hammond reads with our English version, Now that he lieth he shall rise again no more, and thinks that this is a proverbial phrase which was in use among the Hebrews, and which was applied to any sort of ruin, as well as to that which is effected by bodily disease. “The calumniator,” he observes, “may destroy and ruin as well as the pestilence; and from him was David’s danger most frequently, and not from a pestilential disease.”
9. Even the man of my peace. As the very height of all his miseries, David here declares that he had found the same treachery in some one, or, indeed, in many of his greatest friends. For the change of number is very frequent in the Hebrew language, so that he may speak of several individuals as if they were only one person. Thus the meaning would be: Not only the common people, or strangers of whom I had no knowledge or acquaintance, but my greatest friends, nay, even those with whom I was most intimate, and those of my own household, whom I admitted to eat and drink with me at my table, vaunt themselves reproachfully against me. Among the Hebrews, the expression, men of peace, denotes their kinsfolk and connections; but it was a much closer alliance, and one which ought to have secured a stricter observance of the laws of friendship, to eat the bread of David in company with himself: for it is as if he had employed the appellation, My companion. (107) If, however, any would rather understand it of some particular traitor than of several persons, I have no objection to it. To lift up the heel is, in my opinion, to be understood metaphorically, and signifies to rise up disdainfully against a man who is afflicted and cast down. (108) Others explain the expression by to lay wait secretly; but the former interpretation is more appropriate, That the wicked, seeing that David was placed in embarrassed circumstances, or already prostrated in the dust, took occasion from this to assail him indirectly indeed, but, nevertheless, always with insolence; a thing which usually happens among people of a wicked and servile disposition. Christ, in quoting this passage, (John 13:18,) applies it to the person of Judas. And certainly we ought to understand that, although David speaks of himself in this psalm, yet he speaks not as a common and private person, but as one who represented the person of Christ, inasmuch as he was, as it were, the example after which the whole Church should be conformed — a point well entitled to our attention, in order that each of us may prepare himself for the same condition. It was necessary that what was begun in David should be fully accomplished in Christ; and, therefore, it must of necessity come to pass, that the same thing should be fulfilled in each of his members, namely, that they should not only suffer from external violence and force, but also from internal foes, ever ready to betray them, even as Paul declares that the Church shall be assailed, not only by “fightings without,” but also by “fears within,” (2 Corinthians 7:5.)
(107) “ Mon compagnon ordinaire, et qui estoit a pot et a feu avec moy, ainsi qu’on dit en commun proverbe.” — Fr. “My usual companion, and one who, according to the common proverb, had bed and board with me.”
(108) “ Hath lifted against me his heel; i. e. hath spurned me, hath kicked at me, as a vicious beast of burden does, hath insulted me in my misery. Comp. Psalms 36:11.” — Cresswell.
10 Do thou, O Jehovah I have mercy upon me. From a consideration of the wrongful cruelty of his enemies, he again takes encouragement to pray. And there is included in what he says a tacit contrast between God and men; as if he had said, Since there is to be found no aid or help in the world, but as, on the contrary, a strange degree of cruelty, or secret malice, every where prevails, be thou, at least, O Lord! pleased to succor me by thy mercy. This is the course which ought to be pursued by all the afflicted, whom the world unjustly persecutes; that is to say, they ought not only to occupy themselves in bewailing the wrongs which are done them, but they ought also to commend their cause to God: and the more Satan endeavors to overthrow their faith, and to distract their thoughts, the more should they fix their minds attentively on God alone. In using such language, the Psalmist again ascribes his restoration to the mercy of God as its cause. What he says in the concluding clause of the verse of taking vengeance seems harsh and unaccountable. If he confessed truly and from the heart, in the preceding part of the psalm, that God was just in thus afflicting him, why does he not extend forgiveness to others, as he desires that forgiveness should be granted to himself? Surely it were a shameful abuse of the grace of God, if, after having been restored and pardoned by him, we should refuse to follow his example in showing mercy. Besides, it would have been a feeling far removed from that of humility or kindness, for David, even while he was yet in the midst of death, to have desired revenge. But here two things are to be taken into account: First, David was not as one of the common people, but a king appointed by God, and invested with authority; and, secondly, It is not from an impulse of the flesh, but in virtue of the nature of his office, that he is led to denounce against his enemies the punishment which they had merited. If, then, each individual indiscriminately, in taking vengeance upon his enemies, should allege the example of David in his own defense, it is necessary, first, to take into account the difference which subsists between us and David, by reason of the circumstances and position in which he was placed by God; (110) and, secondly, it is necessary to ascertain whether the same zeal which was in him reigns also in us, or rather, whether we are directed and governed by the same divine Spirit. David, being king, was entitled, in virtue of his royal authority, to execute the vengeance of God against the wicked; but as to us our hands are tied. In the second place, As he represented the person of Christ, so he cherished in his heart pure and holy affections: and hence it is, that, in speaking as he does in this verse, he indulged not his own angry spirit, but fulfilled faithfully the duties of the station to which he had been called of God. In short, in acting thus, he executed the righteous judgment of God, just in the same way as it is lawful for us to pray that the Lord himself would take vengeance upon the ungodly; for, as we are not armed with the power of the sword, it is our duty to have recourse to the heavenly Judge. At the same time, in beseeching him to show himself our guardian and defender, by taking vengeance on our enemies, we must do so in a calm and composed state of mind, and exercise a watchful care lest we should give too loose reins to our desires, by casting off the rule prescribed by the Spirit. As to David, the duties of his station required that he should employ means for subduing the rebellious, and that he should be truly the minister of God in inflicting punishment upon all the wicked.
(110) “ Pour raison de la condition et estat qu’il avoit de Dieu.” — Fr.
11 By this I know that I have been acceptable to thee David now proceeds to the exercise of thanksgiving; unless, indeed, by altering the tense of the verb, we would rather with some read this verse in connection with the preceding, in this way: In this I shall know that thou favorest me, if thou suffer not my enemies to triumph over me; but it suits much better to understand it as an expression of joy on account of some deliverance which God had vouchsafed to him. After having offered up his prayers, he now ascribes his deliverance to God, and speaks of it as a manifest and singular benefit he had received from him. It might, however, be asked, whether it is a sufficiently sure method of our coming to the knowledge of God’s love towards us, that he does not suffer our enemies to triumph over us? for it will often happen, that a man is delivered from danger, whom, nevertheless, God does not regard with pleasure; and, besides, the good-will of God towards us is known chiefly from his word, and not simply by experience. The answer to this is easy: David was not destitute of faith, but for the confirmation of it he took advantage of the helps which God had afterwards added to his word. In speaking thus, he seems to refer not only to the favor and good-will which God bears to all the faithful in common, but to the special favor which God had conferred upon him in choosing him to be king; as if he had said, Now, Lord, I am more and more confirmed in the belief that thou hast vouchsafed to adopt me to be the first-born among the kings of the earth. Thus he extends to the whole state of the realm the help of God, by means of which he had been delivered from some particular calamity.
12 And as for me, thou wilt uphold me in my integrity Some expound the clause thus: That, as David followed after uprightness, God had stretched out the hand to him. But this interpretation does not agree very well with a preceding sentence, in which he acknowledged that he had been justly punished by God. The calamity which had befallen him exposed him to the insult and derision of his enemies; but it is not likely that they were the authors of it: and hence, it would have been out of place to have adduced his integrity for this purpose, because the Lord is said to have respect to our integrity, when he defends us against our enemies, and delivers us from the outrage of men. We must therefore seek another meaning. The Hebrew word which we have rendered integrity might be referred to the body as well as the mind, thus: I shall continue sound, because thou wilt preserve and establish me. He seems, however, to extend the favor of God still farther; as if he had said, that he had been assisted not only once by his hand, but that, during the whole course of the period he had enjoyed prosperity, he had always been upheld in safety by the power of God. If any would rather understand by this term the piety and sincere disposition for which David was distinguished, — and this meaning would be very suitable, — it will not follow from this that David boasts of his past life, but only that he declares that, when brought to the test, or in the midst of the conflict, even although Satan and wicked men endeavored to shake his faith, he had not turned aside from the fear of God. By these words, then, he bears testimony to his patience, because, when sorely vexed and tormented, he had not forsaken the path of uprightness. If this meaning should be adopted, it must be observed, that this benefit, namely, that David continued invincible, and boldly sustained these assaults of temptation, is immediately after ascribed to God, and that for the future, David looked for preservation by no other means than by the sustaining power of God. If the language should be understood as referring to his external condition, this will be found to suit equally well the scope of the passage, and the meaning will be this, That God will never cease to manifest his favor, until he has preserved his servants in safety, even to the end. As to the form of expression, that God establishes them before his face, this is said of those whom he defends and preserves in such a manner, that he shows by evident tokens the paternal care which he exercises over them; as, on the other hand, when he seems to have forgotten his own people, he is said to hide his face from them.
13 Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Israel, for ever and ever (111) Here the Psalmist confirms and repeats the expression of thanksgiving contained in a preceding verse. By calling God expressly the God of Israel, he testifies that he cherished in his heart a deep and thorough impression of the covenant which God had made with the Fathers; because it was the source from which his deliverance proceeded. The term amen is repeated twice, to express the greater vehemence, and that all the godly might be the more effectually stirred up to praise God.
(111) The Hebrew Psalter is divided into five books. This is the end of the first book. The second ends with the 72d psalm, the third with the 89, the fourth with the 106, and the fifth with the 150. It is worthy of remark, that each of these five books solemnly concludes with a distinct ascription of praise to God; only no distinct doxology appears at the end of the fifth book, probably because the last psalm throughout is a psalm of praise. The Jewish writers affirm that this form of benediction was added by the person who collected and distributed The Psalms into their present state. How ancient this division is, cannot now be clearly ascertained. Jerome, in his Epistle to Marcella, and Epiphanius, speak of The Psalms as having been divided by the Hebrews into five books; but when this division was made, they do not inform us. The forms of ascription of praise, added at the end of each of the five books, are in the Septuagint version, from which we may conclude that this distribution had been made before that version was executed. It was probably made by Ezra, after the return of the Jews from Babylon to their own country, and the establishment of the worship of God in the new temple; and it was perhaps made in imitation of a similar distribution of the books of Moses. In making this division of the Hebrew Psalter, regard appears to have been paid to the subject-matter of the psalms.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Psalms 41". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12