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1 I will sing of the mercies of Jehovah for ever. It must be borne in mind, as I have just now observed, that the Psalmist opens with the praises of God, and with calling to mind the Divine covenant, to encourage the faithful to strengthen their faith against the formidable assaults of temptation. If when we set about the duty of prayer some despairing thought, at the very outset, presents itself to us, we must forcibly and resolutely break through it, lest our hearts faint and utterly fail. The design of the prophet, therefore, was to fortify the minds of the godly at the very commencement, with stable and substantial supports, that, relying on the Divine promise, which, to outward appearance, had almost fallen to the ground, and repelling all the assaults of temptation with which their faith was severely shaken, they might with confidence hope for the re-establishment of the kingdom, and continue perseveringly to pray for this blessing. From the sad spectacle of begun decay, (522) which Ethan beheld, listening to the dictates of carnal reason, he might have thought that both himself and the rest of God’s believing people were deceived; but he expresses his determination to celebrate the mercies of God which at that time were hidden from his view. And as it was no easy matter for him to apprehend and acknowledge the merciful character of God, of whose severity he had actual experience, he uses the plural number, the Mercies of God, that by reflecting on the abundance and variety of the blessings of Divine grace he might overcome this temptation.
(522) Ainsworth’s translation of this last clause is both literal and elegant. “The heavens, thou wilt establish thy faithfulness in them.” Dr Kennicott, in his Remarks on Select Passages of the Old Testament, here refers to verses 37, 38, “where,” says he, “it appears that the sun, the moon, and the bow in the sky, were the tokens of confirmation given by God to the covenant made with David.” “The meaning of this passage,” says Warner, “appears to be, that the constancy of the celestial motions, the regular vicissitudes of day and night, and alternations of the seasons, were emblems of God’s own immutability.”
2 For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever. He assigns the reason why he perseveres in singing the Divine praises in the midst of adversities; which is, that he does not despair of the manifestation of God’s loving-kindness towards his people, although at present they were under severe chastisement. Never will a man freely open his mouth to praise God, unless he is fully persuaded that God, even when he is angry with his people, never lays aside his fatherly affection towards them. The words I have said, imply that the truth which the inspired writer propounds was deeply fixed in his heart. (523) Whatever, as if he had said, has hitherto happened, it has never had the effect of effacing from my heart the undoubted hope of experiencing the Divine favor as to the future, and I will always continue steadfastly to cherish the same feeling. It is to be observed, that it was not without a painful and arduous conflict that he succeeded in embracing by faith the goodness of God, which at that time had entirely vanished out of sight; — this we say is to be particularly noticed, in order that when God at any time withdraws from us all the tokens of his love, we may nevertheless learn to erect in our hearts that everlasting building of mercy, which is here spoken of, — a metaphor, by which is meant that the Divine mercy shall be extended, or shall continue till it reach its end or consummation. In the second clause of the verse something must be supplied. The sense, in short, is, that the Divine promise is no less stable than the settled course of the heavens, which is eternal and exempt from all change. By the word heavens I understand not only the visible skies, but the heavens which are above the whole frame of the world; for the truth of God, in the heavenly glory of his kingdom, is placed above all the elements of the world.
(523) “ Ex tristi ruinae spectaculo.” — Lat. “ Voyant ce commoncement pitoyable d’une ruine.” — Fr.
3 I have made a covenant with my chosen. (524) The more effectually to confirm himself and all the godly in the faith of the Divine promise, he introduces God himself as speaking and sanctioning, by his authority, what had been said in the preceding verse. As faith ought to depend on the Divine promise, this manner of speaking, by which God is represented as coming forward and alluring us to himself by his own voice, is more forcible than if the prophet himself had simply stated the fact. And when God in this way anticipates us, we cannot be charged with rashness in coming familiarly to him; even as, on the contrary, without His word we have no ground to presume that he will be gracious to us, or to hope, at the mere suggestion of our own fancy, for what he has not promised. Moreover, the truth of the promise is rendered still more irrefragable, when God declares that he had made a covenant with his servant David, ratified by his own solemn oath. It having been customary in ancient times to engrave leagues and covenants on tables of brass, a metaphor is here used borrowed from this practice. God applies to David two titles of distinction, calling him both his chosen and his servant. Those who would refer the former appellation to Abraham do not sufficiently attend to the style of the Book of Psalms, in which it is quite common for one thing to be repeated twice. David is called the chosen of God, because God of his own good pleasure, and from no other cause, preferred him not only to the posterity of Saul, and many distinguished personages, but even to his own brethren. If, therefore, the cause or origin of this covenant is sought for, we must necessarily fall back upon the Divine election.
The name of servant, which follows immediately after, is not to be understood as implying that David by his services merited any thing at the hand of God. He is called God’s servant in respect of the royal dignity, into which he had not rashly thrust himself, having been invested with the government by God, and having undertaken it in obedience to his lawful call. When, however, we consider what the covenant summarily contains, we conclude that the prophet has not improperly applied it to his own use, and to the use of the whole people; for God did not enter into it with David individually, but had an eye to the whole body of the Church, which would exist from age to age. The sentence, I will establish thy throne for ever, is partly to be understood of Solomon, and the rest of David’s successors; but the prophet well knew that perpetuity or everlasting duration, in the strict and proper sense, could be verified only in Christ. In ordaining one man to be king, God assuredly did not have a respect to one house alone, while he forgot and neglected the people with whom he had before made his covenant in the person of Abraham; but he conferred the sovereign power upon David and his children, that they might rule for the common good of all the rest, until the throne might be truly established by the advent of Christ.
(524) “The word אמרתי, ‘I have said,’ is used, in the Book of Psalms, to express two things; either a fixed purpose, or a settled opinion of the person speaking. The Psalmist, therefore, delivers the whole of this second verse in his own person, and introduces not God speaking till the next verse.” — Horsley
5. And the heavens shall praise thy wondrous work. The prophet, having spoken of God’s covenant, even as faith ought to begin at the word, now descends to a general commendation of his works. It is, however, to be observed, that when he treats of the wonderful power of God, he has no other end in view than to exalt and magnify more highly the holiness of the covenant. He exclaims, that this is the God who has rightful claims to be served and feared, who ought to be believed, and upon whose power the most unhesitating confidence may be reposed. The words wondrous work, in the first clause, I would therefore limit to the power which God displays in preserving and maintaining his Church. The heavens, it is true, are most excellent witnesses and preachers of God’s wonderful power; but from attending to the scope of the passage, it will be still more evident, that the encomiums here pronounced have all a special reference to the end of which I have spoken. Some interpreters judiciously explain the word heavens, of the angels, among whom there is a common joy and congratulation in the salvation of the Church. This interpretation is confirmed from the last clause of the verse, in which it is asserted, that God’s truth will be celebrated in the congregation of the saints There is no doubt, that the same subject is here prosecuted, and that by the word truth, it is intended to signalise the remarkable deliverances by which God had manifested his faithfulness to the promises made to his servants.
6 For who in the clouds can be compared to Jehovah? The prophet now proceeds to illustrate farther what he had said respecting God’s wonders, and exclaims emphatically, Who in the clouds can be compared to God? The reason why he speaks of the clouds, or heaven, is because, what is not surprising, nothing is to be found upon the earth which can at all approach the glory of God. Although man excels other living creatures, yet we see how contemptible and miserable his condition is, or rather, how full it is of shame and reproach. Whence it follows, that under heaven there is no excellence which can compete with that of God. But when we ascend to heaven, immediately ravished with admiration, we conceive of a multitude of gods, which do away with the true God. The last clause of the verse, in which it is said, that among the sons of the gods there is none like the true and only God, is an explanation of the first. The opinion of some, that by the clouds, or the heavens, is to be understood the sun, moon, and stars, is disproved by the context itself. The amount then is, that even in the heavens, God alone has the entire pre-eminence, having there none as a companion or equal. The appellation the sons of the gods is here given to angels, because they neither have their origin from the earth, nor are clothed with a corruptible body, but are celestial spirits, adorned with a Divine glory. It is not meant that they are a part of the Divine essence or substance, as some fanatics dream; but as God displays his power in them, this title is attributed to them, to distinguish between their nature and ours. In short, although a greater majesty shines forth in the angels than in other creatures, at the contemplation of which we are ravished with admiration, yet come they not near God, so as to obscure and impair his glory by their excellence, or to share with him in the sovereignty of the universe. This is a point worthy of our careful attention; for, although God everywhere declares in his word that the angels are only his servants, and always ready to execute his commands, yet the world, not contented with having only one God, forges for itself a countless number of deities.
To the same effect is the following verse, in which it is affirmed, that God is very terrible in the assembly of the saints. In these words is censured that devilish superstition, to which almost all men are prone, of exalting angels beyond measure, and without reason. But if the angels themselves tremble, and are afraid before the Divine Majesty, why should they not be regarded as subjects, and kept in their own rank, that God alone may have the sovereignty entirely to himself? Farther, when they are represented as around God, the meaning is, that they surround his royal throne like body-guards, and are always ready to execute his behests. In the subsequent verse the same thing is repeated yet again, Who is a strong God as thou art? and this is done, that at least the fear of the Divine Majesty may teach us to beware of robbing him of the honor which belongs to him. That we may not, however, by too much fear, be prevented from approaching him, some portion of sweetness is intermingled with this description, when it is declared, that his truth is to be seen round about him on all sides; by which we are to understand, that God is always steadfast in his promises, and that whatever changes may happen, he nevertheless continues invariably true, both before and behind, on the right hand and on the left. (528)
(528) Ainsworth reads, “God is daunting terrible.” The original word is נערף, naarats, from ערף, arats, he was broken, bruised, terrified. “An epithet of God,” says Bythner “as though breaking all things.”
9. Thou governest the pride of the sea. I have already observed that what the prophet has hitherto spoken generally concerning the power of God, is to be referred to the miracle of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, which he now celebrates in express terms. According to the interpretation of some, God is said to still the impetuous waves of the sea, because he does not suffer it to break forth and overflow the whole world by a deluge. But I would read the 9 and 10 verses connectedly, and would understand the prophet as speaking of the Red Sea, which God divided to make a way for the chosen tribes to pass over. The Psalmist adds immediately after, that all the land of Egypt was overthrown as a wounded man By these words he magnifies the grace of God, which was displayed in the deliverance of the Church. He intended, there can be no doubt, to set before his own mind and the minds of others, the paternal love of God, to encourage both himself and others to have recourse to Him for succor, with the greater freedom and alacrity. And in affirming that God had broken in pieces his enemies with his mighty arm, he concludes from the past experience of the Church, that his mode of acting will be always similar, whenever in his infinite wisdom he sees it to be required.
11 The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine. He again repeats, the third time, that the same God who had been the deliverer of the chosen people exercises supreme dominion over the whole world. From the fact that God created all things, he concludes, that it is He who actually presides over, and controls whatever takes place in heaven and in earth. It would be absurd to suppose, that the heavens, having been once created by God, should now revolve by chance, and that things should be thrown into confusion upon the earth either at the will of men, or at random, when it is considered that it belongs to God to maintain and govern whatever he has created; unless, like the heathen, we would imagine that he enjoys himself in beholding all the works of his hand, in this beautiful theater of the heaven and the earth, without giving himself any farther trouble about them. In speaking of the south and the north, and also of the mountains, Tabor and Hermon, the prophet accommodates his language to the unrefined apprehension of the common people: as if he had said, there is no part of the fabric of the world which does not reverence and honor its Creator. I also connect with this the next verse, which affirms, that the arm of God is furnished with power, his hand with strength, and that his right hand is exalted Some resolve the two last clauses of the verse into the form of a prayer, Strengthen thy hand, lift up thy right hand; but this seems too much removed from the mind of the prophet, who, with the simple view of encouraging all the godly, celebrates the inconceivable power of God.
14. Righteousness and judgement are the place of thy throne. These encomiums serve more effectually to confirm the hope of true believers than if the Divine power alone had been presented to our view. Whenever mention is made of God, it behoves us to apply our minds principally to those attributes of his nature which are specially fitted for establishing our faith, that we may not lose ourselves by vainly indulging in subtile speculations, by which foolish men, although they may minister to their own mental recreation, make no advances to the right understanding of what God really is. The prophet, therefore, in allusion to the insignia and pomp of kings, declares that righteousness and judgment are the pillars of the throne on which God sits conspicuous in sovereign state, and that mercy and truth are, as it were, his pursuivants; as if he had said, “The ornaments with which God is invested, instead of being a robe of purple, a diadem, or a scepter, are, that he is the righteous and impartial judge of the world, a merciful father, and a faithful protector of his people.” Earthly kings, from their having nothing in themselves to procure for them authority, and to give them dignity, (533) are under the necessity of borrowing elsewhere what will invest them therewith; but God having in himself an all-sufficiency, and standing in no need of any other helps, exhibits to us the splendor of his own image in his righteousness, mercy, and truth.
(533) Tabor is a mountain of Judea, and Hermon (Psalms 133:3) of Syria, the former to the west, and the latter to the east of the Jordan; so that they may be considered as put for the East and the West. Accordingly, the Chaldee paraphrase is, “Thou hast created the desert of the north, and the inhabitants of the south; Tabor on the west, and Hermon on the east, sing praises to thy name.” “These mountains,” says Warner, “were at a considerable distance from each other. This indicates, that the most distant parts of the land shall be equally blessed; have a like cause of rejoicing.”
15. Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound. Here the same train of reflection concerning the Church is pursued, not only because unbelievers are blind to the consideration of God’s works, but also because the prophet has no other purpose in view than to inspire the godly with good hope, that they may with confidence rely upon God, and not be discouraged by any adversities from boldly calling upon him. It is declared that those are happy to whom it is given to rejoice in God; for although all men in common are sustained and nourished by his liberality, yet the feeling of his paternal goodness is far from being experienced by all men in such a manner as to enable them, from a certain persuasion that he is favorable to them, to congratulate themselves upon their happy condition. It is, therefore, a singular privilege which he confers upon his chosen ones, to make them taste of his goodness, that thereby they may be encouraged to be glad and rejoice. And, in fact, there is not a more miserable condition than that of unbelievers, when by their brutish insensibility they trample under foot the Divine benefits which they greedily devour; for the more abundantly God pampers them, the fouler is their ingratitude. True happiness then consists in our apprehending the Divine goodness which, filling our hearts with joy, may stir us up to praise and thanksgiving.
The prophet afterwards proves from the effect, that those who with joy and delight acknowledge God to be their father are blessed, because they not only enjoy his benefits, but also, confiding in his favor, pass the whole course of their life in mental peace and tranquillity. This is the import of walking in the light of God’s countenance: it is to repose upon his providence from the certain persuasion that he has a special care about our well-being, and keeps watch and ward effectually to secure it. The expressions rejoicing in his name, and glorying in his righteousness, are to the same purpose. The idea involved in them is, that believers find in God abundant, yea more than abundant, ground to rejoice and glory. The word daily appears to denote steadfast and unwavering perseverance; and thus there is indirectly censured the foolish arrogance of those who, inflated only with wind and presuming on their own strength, lift up their horns on high. Standing as they do upon an insecure foundation, they must at length inevitably fall. Whence it follows, that there is no true magnanimity nor any power which can stand but that which leans upon the grace of God alone; even as we see how Paul (Romans 8:31) nobly boasts, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” and defies all calamities both present and to come.
17. For thou art the glory of their strength. The same sentiment is confirmed when it is declared, that God never leaves his faithful servants destitute of strength. By the appellation the glory of their strength, which is ascribed to him, is meant that they are always so sustained by his present aid as to have just ground to glory in him; or which amounts to the same thing, that his power appears always glorious in aiding and sustaining them. They are, however, at the same time, reminded of the duty of yielding to God all the praise of their being preserved in safety. If this is true as to the present life, it is much more truly applicable to the spiritual life of the soul. Farther, the more highly to magnify this instance of God’s liberality, we are taught, at the same time, that it depends entirely upon his good pleasure, there being no other cause of it. (536) Whence it follows, that they are wholly bound and indebted to Him who is induced by his free bounty alone to continue to extend to them his help.
(536) “The Hebrew ליהוה, must be rendered of or from the Lord, in both places in this verse: ‘Of the Lord is our shield or defense;’ ‘Of the Lord, or from him,’ i e. , of his appointment, ‘is our King.’”— Hammond
18. For to Jehovah is our buckler. As the chief protection of the people was in the person of their king, it is here expressly shown, that the maintenance of the welfare of the faithful by his instrumentality is the gift of God. But it is to be noticed, that the prophet’s mind was not so fixed upon this temporal and transitory kingdom as to neglect, at the same time, to consider the end of it, as we shall presently see. He knew that it was only on account of Christ that God made his favor to flow upon the head of the Church, and from thence upon the whole body. And, in the first place, while he calls the king metaphorically a buckler, — a figurative expression frequently employed in Scripture, — he confesses that when the people are defended by his hand and working, it is nevertheless done by the providence of God, and is thus to be traced to a higher source than human agency. The same thing is again repeated in the second clause, in which it is affirmed, that the king was given by God to govern the people; and that, therefore, the defense which comes from the king is a blessing of God. Moreover, we must remember that what is said of this kingdom, which was a shadow of something greater, properly applies to the person of Christ, whom the Father has given to us to be the guardian of our welfare, that we may be maintained and defended by his power.
19. Then thou spakest in vision to thy meek ones. The Psalmist now declares at greater length why he said that the king, set over the chosen people for the preservation of the public good, was given them from heaven; namely, because he was not chosen by the suffrages of men, nor usurped at his own hand the supreme power, nor insinuated himself into it by corrupt arts, but was elected by God to be the instrument of maintaining the public good, and performed the duties of his office under the auspices and conduct of God. The design of the prophet, as we shall shortly see more clearly, is to distinguish this Divinely-appointed king from all other kings. Although what Paul teaches in Romans 13:1, is true, “There is no power but of God;” yet there was a great difference between David and all earthly kings who have acquired sovereign power by worldly means. God had delivered the scepter to his servant David immediately with his own hand, so to speak, and had seated him on the royal throne by his own authority. The particle אז, az, which properly signifies then, is taken also for long since, or in old time. The meaning, therefore, is, that whereas some are born kings, succeeding their fathers by right of inheritance, and some are elevated to the royal dignity by election, while others acquire it for themselves by violence and force of arms, God was the founder of this kingdom, having chosen David to the throne by his own voice. Farther, although he revealed his purpose to Samuel, yet as the plural number is here used, implying, that the same oracle had been delivered to others, we may certainly conclude that it had been communicated to other prophets that they might be able, with one consent, to bear testimony that David was created king by the Divine appointment. And, indeed, as other distinguished and celebrated prophets lived at that time, it is not very probable that a matter of so great importance was concealed from them. But Samuel alone is named in this business, because he was the publisher of the Divine oracle and the minister of the royal anointing. As God in those days spake to his prophets either by dreams or by visions, this last mode of revelation is here mentioned.
There next follows the substance or amount of the Divine oracle, That God had furnished with help the strong or mighty one whom he had chosen to be the supreme head and governor of the kingdom. David is called strong, not because naturally and in himself he excelled in strength, (for, as is well known, he was of small stature, and despised among his brethren, so that even Samuel passed him over with neglects) but because God, after having chosen him, endued him with new strength, and other distinguished qualities suitable for a king; even as in a parallel case, when Christ chose his apostles, he not only honored them with the title, but at the same time bestowed the gifts which were necessary for executing their office. And at the present day he imparts to his ministers the same grace of his Spirit. The strength of David, then, of which mention is here made, was the effect of his election; for God, in creating him king, furnished him at the same time with strength adequate for the preservation of the people. This appears still more distinctly from the second clause, where this invincible strength is traced to its source: I have exalted one chosen from among the people. All the words are emphatic. When God declares that he exalted him, it is to intimate the low and mean condition in which David lived, unknown and obscure, before God stretched out his hand to him. To the same effect is the expression which follows, from among the people. The meaning is, that he was at that time unnoted, and belonged to the lowest class of the people, and gave no indications of superior excellence, being the least esteemed of his father’s children, in whose country cottage he held the humble office of a herdsman. (539) By the word chosen, God calls us back to the consideration of his own free will, as if he forbade us to seek for any other cause of David’s exaltation than his own good pleasure.
(539) “ L’ennemi n’aura puissance sur luy.” — Fr. “The enemy shall not have power over him.”
20 I have found David my servant. The prophet confirms the same proposition, That there was nothing of royalty in David, who owed all to the sovereignty of God in preventing him by his grace. Such is the import of the word found, as if God had said, When I took him to elevate him, this proceeded entirely from my free goodness. The name servant, therefore, does not denote any merit, but is to be referred to the divine call. It is as if God had said, that he confirmed and ratified by his authority the sovereign power of David; and if He approved it, its legitimacy is placed beyond all doubt. The second clause of the verse affords an additional confirmation of God’s free election: With my holy oil have I anointed him. This anointing, which was not the fruit of David’s own policy, but which he obtained contrary to all expectation, was the cause of his elevation to the estate of royalty. God then having of himself, and according to his mere good pleasure, anticipated David, that he might anoint him king by the hand of Samuel, he justly declares that he found him. It is afterwards added, that he will be the guardian and protector of this kingdom of which he was the founder; for it is not his usual way to abandon his works after having commenced them, but, on the contrary, to carry them forward by a continued process of improvement to their completion.
22 The enemy shall not exact upon him. (540) Here it is declared in express terms, that although David may not be without enemies, the power of God will be always ready to maintain and defend him, that he may not be oppressed with unrighteous violence. It is accordingly affirmed, that David will not be tributary to his enemies, as he who is vanquished in battle is constrained to grant such conditions of peace as his conqueror may dictate, however injurious to himself these may be. When his enemies are called sons of iniquity, it is tacitly intimated, that this government will be so exempt from tyranny and extortion, that whoever shall attempt to overthrow it will be involved in the perpetration of wrong and wickedness. The amount is, that David and his successors will be so secure and strongly fortified by the divine protection, that it will be impossible for their enemies to treat them as they would wish. In regard to the fact, that God suffered this kingdom to be greatly afflicted, so that David’s successors were constrained to pay a vast amount of tribute to foreign and heathen kings, it is not at variance with this promise; for, although the power of the kingdom was reduced, it was enough that the root still remained, until Christ came, in whose hand the kingdom was at length firmly established. As both the king and the people wickedly rejected this singular blessing of God, the kingdom was often shaken through their own default, afterwards impaired, and finally ruined. Yet God, to confirm his oracle concerning the perpetuity of this kingdom, ceased not all along to cherish and preserve some hope, by contending against their ingratitude. Besides, when mention is made of David’s haters and oppressors, it is intimated, that this throne will not be privileged with exemption from annoyances and troubles, inasmuch as there will be always some who will rise up in hostility against it, unless God set himself in opposition to them.
(540) “ Quum ultimus esset in rustico tugurio, et inter pecuarios.” — Lat. “ Veu qu’il estoit le plus petit en la maison de son pere, et qu’en ce mesnage de village il estoit de ceux qui gardoyent les bestes.” — Fr.
24 My truth and my mercy shall be with him. God shows that he will continue to exercise without intermission that grace which he had manifested towards David at first. These words are as if he had said, that to prove himself faithful to his word, he would be always gracious and bountiful. Thus We see that God, not only at the outset, furnished David with testimonies of his goodness, but that he always continued to deal with him in the same merciful way. This has a reference to the whole Church of Christ, so that the divine goodness is manifested in the whole course of our salvation, and not only at our first entrance upon it, as these shufflers and sophists the Sorbonists foolishly talk. (543) The horn of David denotes here, as it often does in other places, his glory, dignity, and power. The meaning therefore is, that by the grace of God, this kingdom shall always flourish and prosper.
(543) “ I will make him my first-born; i. e. , as the eldest son of a family ranks the highest, and receives the most from his father, so shall David be first in the order of kings, who, when they are legitimate sovereigns, may be regarded as the sons of God, their common Father: comp. Genesis 27:1, etc.; Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 21:17; Psalms 2:7; Colossians 1:15. In Isaiah 14:30, by the first-born of the poor, is meant the extreme of that class, they who are the poorest of the poor.” — Cresswell.
25. And I will set his hand in the sea. The vast extent of the kingdom is here adverted to. As the people by their wickedness had, as it were, blocked up the way, and intercepted the blessing of God, their inheritance was more limited than the promise implied. But now God declares, that during the reign of David, it will be again enlarged, so that the people shall possess the whole country, from the sea even to the river Euphrates. From this we gather, that what God had promised by Moses was fulfilled only in the person of David, that is to say, from his time. (544) By the rivers may be understood, either the Euphrates alone, which is cut into many channels, or the other neighboring rivers on the coast of Syria.
(544) “ Sicuti nugantur Sophistae.” — Lat. “ Comme gazouillent ces brouillons et Sophistes de Sorbonistes.” — Fr.
26. He shall cry to me, Thou art my Father. In this verse it is declared, that the chief excellence of this king will consist in this, that he will be accounted the Son of God. This indeed is a title of honor, which is applied to all whom God ordains to be kings, as we have seen in a previous psalm,“
I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the Most High:” (Psalms 82:6)
but in the passage before us, something special is expressed of the holy king whom God had chosen, and it is intended to say, that he will be the son of God in a different sense. We shall immediately see in the subsequent verse, how he is placed in a higher rank than the kings of the earth, although they may sway the scepter over a larger extent of country. It was therefore a privilege peculiar to only one king in this world, to be called the Son of God. Had it been otherwise, the apostle reasoned not only inconclusively but absurdly, in quoting this text as a proof of the doctrine, that Christ is superior to the angels:“
I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son,” (Hebrews 1:5.)
Angels, and kings, and all who are regenerated by the Spirit of adoption, are called sons of God; but David, when God promises to take him for his son, is, by singular prerogative, elevated above all others to whom this designation is applied. This is still more apparent from the following verse, in which he is called God’s first-born, because he is higher than all the kings of the earth; and this is an honor which transcends all the dignity both of men and angels. If it is objected, that David being a mortal man could not be equal to the angels, the obvious answer is, that if he is considered in himself, he cannot justly be elevated to the same rank with them, but with the highest propriety he may, in so far as for a time he represented the person of Christ.
28. And I will keep my mercy to him for ever. We see how God frequently repeats, that he had set up the kingdom of David with the express design of establishing it for ever. By placing his mercy first in order, and then adding his covenant, he points out the cause of this covenant, intimating in one word, that it is gratuitous, and that his grace is not only the foundation on which it rests, but also the cause why it is preserved inviolate. The amount is, that God will be always merciful to David, in order that his covenant may never fail. From this it follows, that its inviolability depends upon the mere good pleasure of God. In the next verse, God expresses the effect of his truth, declaring, that the posterity of David will sit for ever on the royal throne. There being nothing under heaven of long continuance, the days of heaven is an expression employed to denote everlasting duration. Whence it follows, that this prophecy cannot have its full accomplishment in any till we come to Christ, in whom alone, in the strict and proper sense, this everlasting duration is to be found.
30. If his children shall forsake my law. The prophet proceeds yet farther, declaring, that although the posterity of David should fall into sin, yet God had promised to show himself merciful towards them, and that he would not punish their transgressions to the full extent of their desert. Moreover, to give the promise the greater efficacy, he always introduces God speaking, as if he presented to him a request corresponding with the precise words and express articles of his covenant. (549) It was very necessary that this should be added; for so easily do we slide into evil, and so prone are we to continual falls, that unless God, in the exercise of his infinite mercy, pardoned us, there would not be a single article of his covenant which would continue steadfast. God, therefore, seeing that it could not be otherwise, but that the posterity of David, in so far as it depended upon themselves, would frequently fall from the covenant, by their own fault, has provided a remedy for such cases, in his pardoning grace.
Farther, as it is profitable for men to be subjected to divine correction, he does not promise that he will allow them to escape unpunished, which would be to encourage them in their sins; but he promises, that in his chastisements he will exercise a fatherly moderation, and will not execute vengeance upon them to the full extent which their sins deserve. It is also to be observed, that he promises pardon, not only for light offenses, but also for great and aggravated sins. It is not without cause that he uses these forms of expression, to forsake his law, to violate his statutes, not to walk in his judgments, and not to keep his commandments Nor is it without cause that he uses the word transgression, or perfidiousness, and iniquity. We see, then, that the patience and lenity of God, by which he reconciles to himself the posterity of David, is extended even to sins of the most heinous and aggravated description.
This passage teaches us, that when God adopts men into his family, they do not forthwith completely lay aside the flesh with its corruptions, as is held by some enthusiasts, who dream, that as soon as we are grafted into the body of Christ, all the corruption that is in us must be destroyed. Would to God that we could all on a sudden change our nature, and thus exhibit that angelic perfection which they require! But as it is quite apparent, that we are far from such an attainment, so long as we carry about with us this tabernacle of flesh, let us bid adieu to that devilish figment, and let us all betake ourselves to the sanctuary of forgiveness, which is at all times open for us. God, unquestionably, is speaking of the household of his Church; and yet it is declared, with sufficient plainness, in the promise which he makes of pardoning their offenses, that they will transgress and be guilty of revolting from him.
To limit what is here said to the ancient people of Israel, is an exposition not only absurd, but altogether impious. In the first place, I take it as a settled point, which we have already had occasion often to consider, that this kingdom was erected to be a figure or shadow in which God might represent the Mediator to his Church: and this can be proved, not only from the testimony of Christ and the apostles, but it may also be clearly and indubitably deduced from the thing considered in itself. If we set Christ aside, where will we find that everlasting duration of the royal throne of which mention is here made? The second from David, in the order of succession, was despoiled of the greater part of the kingdom, so that out of twelve tribes he retained scarcely one tribe and a half. Afterwards, how many losses did this kingdom thus greatly reduced sustain, and by how many calamities was it defaced, until at length the king and the whole body of the people were dragged into captivity, with the utmost ignominy and reproach? And I pray you to consider where was the dignity of the throne, when the king, after his sons were put to death before his eyes, was himself treated as a criminal? (Genesis 25:7.) The Jews were indeed afterwards permitted to dwell in their own country; but it was without the honor and title of a kingdom. Accordingly, Ezekiel (Ezekiel 21:27) declares thrice, that the crown shall be laid in the dust, “until he come whose right it is.” The obvious conclusion then is, that perpetuity, as applied to this kingdom, can be verified in Christ alone. And, in fact, what access could the Jews of old time have had to God, or what access could we in the present day have to him, did not the Mediator come between us and him, to cause us find favor in his sight?
It now remains that we apply to ourselves the qualities of this kingdom of which we have been speaking. As its everlasting duration leads us to the hope of a blessed immortality, and its invincible strength inspires our minds with tranquillity, and prevents our faith from failing, notwithstanding all the efforts which Satan may put forth against us, and notwithstanding the numerous forms of death which may surround us; so the pardon which is here promised belongs to the spiritual kingdom of Christ: and it may be equally gathered from this passage, that the salvation of the Church depends solely upon the grace of God, and the truth of his promises. If it is objected, that those who are regenerated by the Spirit of God never totally fall away, because the incorruptible seed of the word abides in them, I grant that this is an important truth. It is not, however, a total apostasy which is here spoken of — not such as implies the entire extinction of godliness in the individual chargeable with it. But it sometimes happens that the faithful cast off the yoke of God, and break forth into sin in such a manner, as that the fear of God seems to be extinguished in them; and such being the case, it was necessary that He should promise the pardon even of heinous sins, that they might not upon every fall be overwhelmed with despair. Thus David seemed, to outward appearance, to be wholly deprived of the Spirit of God, whom he prays to be restored to him. The reason why God leaves hope of pardon even for detestable and deadly transgressions is, that the enormity of our sins may not keep us back or hinder us from seeking reconciliation with him. From this, we are led to condemn the undue severity of the fathers, who scrupled to receive to repentance those who had fallen for the second or third time. Due care must indeed be taken lest, by too great forbearance, loose reins should be given to men to commit iniquity; but there is no less danger in an extreme degree of rigour. It is to be observed, that when God declares that he will show himself merciful towards sinners, who have violated his law, and broken his commandments, he purposely employs these odious terms to excite our hatred and detestation of sin, and not to entice us to the commission of it. Still, however, we must understand the passage as amounting to this, That although the faithful may not in every instance act in a manner worthy of the grace of God, and may therefore deserve to be rejected by him, yet he will be merciful to them, because remission of sins is an essential article promised in his covenant. And, indeed, as God in his law requires us to perform what exceeds our power, all that he promises in it is of no avail to us, to whom it can never be accomplished. Hence Paul, in Romans 4:14, affirms, “If the inheritance come by the law, faith is made void, and the promise made of none effect.” To this also belong these words of Jeremiah,“
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; (which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord;) but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31)
Farther, since God does not adopt us as his children, to encourage us to take liberty to commit sin with the greater boldness, mention is here made at the same time of chastisement, by which he shows that he hates the sins of his children, and, warning them of what they have deserved in offending him, invites and exhorts them to repentance. This fatherly chastisement then, which operates as medicine, holds the medium between undue indulgence, which is an encouragement to sin, and extreme severity, which precipitates persons into destruction. Here the inspired writer adverts to the prophecy recorded in 2 Samuel 7:14, where God declares that in chastising his own people, he will proceed after the manner of men —“
If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men.” (2 Samuel 7:14)
God there speaks of his chastising his people after the manner of men, either because the anger of a father in correcting his children proceeds from love, — for he sees that otherwise he would fail in promoting their good; or it contains a contrast between God and men, implying, that in the task of chastising he will proceed with moderation and gentleness; for, were he to put forth his strength, he would immediately bring us to nothing, yea, he could do this simply by moving one of his fingers. The scope of both passages undoubtedly is, that whenever God punishes the sins of true believers, he will observe a wholesome moderation; and it is therefore our duty to take all the punishments which he inflicts upon us, as so many medicines. On this point, the Papists have egregiously blundered. Not understanding the true end and fruit of chastisements, they have imagined that God proceeds herein as if avenging himself upon sinners. Whence arose their satisfactions, and from these again proceeded pardons and indulgences, by which they endeavored to redeem themselves from the hand and vengeance of God. (550) But God has nothing else in view than to correct the vices of his children, in order that, after having thoroughly purged them, he may restore them anew to his favor and friendship; according to the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:33, which affirm that the faithful “are chastened of the Lord, that they should not be condemned with the world.” For this reason, lest they should be overwhelmed with the weight of chastisement, he restrains his hand, and makes considerate allowance for their infirmity. Thus the promise is fulfilled, That he does not withdraw his loving-kindness from his people, even when he is angry with them; for, while he is correcting them for their profit and salvation, he does not cease to love them. It is, however, to be observed, that there is a change of person in the words. After it is said, If his children shall forsake my law, etc., it is at length subjoined, My loving-kindness or mercy will I not withdraw from Him. It ought surely to have been said, them instead of him, since it is children in the plural number who are before spoken of. But it is very probable that this form of expression is purposely employed to teach us that we are reconciled to God only through Christ; and that if we would expect to find mercy, we must seek for it from that source alone. What follows in the end of the verse, I will not suffer my faithfulness to fail, is more emphatic than if it had been said that God will be true to what he has said. It is possible that God’s promise may fail of taking effect, and yet he may continue faithful. For example, the law is true and holy, and yet of what advantage is it to us that salvation is promised in the law, when no human being can ever obtain salvation by it? God then in this passage leads us farther; promising that his covenant shall be steadfast and effectual, not only because he will be faithful on his part, but also because he will keep his people from falling away through their own inconstancy.
(549) “The whole passage, beginning with ‘I have laid help,’ in verse 19, to the end of verse 37, may be considered as a paraphrase of what God had said unto David, (2 Samuel 7:8, etc.,) through the mouth of Nathan. The promises herein recited, we know from history, had their fulfillment only in Jesus Christ. The Psalmist, therefore, in the next subsequent verses, contemplating the calamities of his nation, indulges in the language of complaint.” — Cresswell.
(550) “ Acsi ex conceptis pacti verbis cum eo ageret.” — Lat. “ Comme s’il luy presentoit requeste suyvant les propres mots et articles expres de son alliance.” — Fr.
34 My covenant will I not break. As the true knowledge of God’s mercy can only be obtained from his word, he enjoins us to keep our eyes intently fixed upon his covenant. The more excellent and invaluable a blessing it is, “Never to be rejected after having been once adopted by him,” the more difficult it is for us to believe its truth. And we know how many thoughts from time to time present themselves to our minds, tempting us to call it in question. That the faithful, therefore, may not harass themselves beyond measure in debating in their own minds whether or no they are in favor with God, they are enjoined to look to the covenant, and to embrace the salvation which is offered to them in it. God here commends to us his own faithfulness, that we may account his promise sufficient, and that we may not seek the certainty of our salvation any where else. He had said above, If the children of David break my statutes; and now, alluding to that breach, he declares that he will not requite them as they requite him, My covenant will I not break, implying, that although his people may not altogether act in a manner corresponding to their vocation, as they ought to do, he will not suffer his covenant to be broken and disannulled on account of their fault, because he will promptly and effectually prevent this in the way of blotting out their sins by a gratuitous pardon. He is still pursuing the illustration of the preceding proposition, I will not suffer my faithfulness to fail; promising not only to be faithful on his side, as we say, but also that what he has promised shall take full effect, in despite of all the impediments which men may cast in the way; for he will strive against their sins, that by means of them the fruit of his goodness may not be prevented from reaching them. When the Jews, by their ingratitude and treachery, revolted from him, the covenant was not disannulled, because it was founded upon the perfect immutability of his nature. And still, at the present day, when our sins mount even to the heavens, the goodness of God fails not to rise above them, since it is far above the heavens.
35. Once have I sworn by my holiness. God now confirms by an oath what he previously stated he had promised to David; from which it appears that it was not a matter of small importance; it being certain that God would not interpose his holy name in reference to what was of no consequence. It is a token of singular loving-kindness for him, upon seeing us prone to distrust, to provide a remedy for it so compassionately. We have, therefore, so much the less excuse if we do not embrace, with true and unwavering faith, his promise which is so strongly ratified, since in his deep interest about our salvation, he does not withhold his oath, that we may yield entire credence to his word. If we do not reckon his simple promise sufficient, he adds his oath, as it were, for a pledge. The adverb once, (551) denotes that the oath is irrevocable, and that therefore we have not the least reason to be apprehensive of any inconstancy. He affirms that he sware by his holiness, because a greater than himself is not to be found, by whom he could swear. In swearing by Him, we constitute him our judge, and place him as sovereign over us, even as he is our sovereign by nature. It is a more emphatic manner of expression for him to say, by my holiness, than if he had said, by myself, not only because it magnifies and exalts his glory, but also because it is far more fitted for the confirmation of faith, calling back, as it does, the faithful to the earthly habitation which he had chosen for himself, that they might not think it necessary for them to seek him at a distance; for by the term holiness, I have no doubt, he means the sanctuary. And yet he swears by himself, and by nothing else; for, in naming the temple which he had appointed as his seat, he does not depart from himself; but, merely accommodating his language to our rude understandings, swears by his holiness which dwells visibly upon earth. With respect to the elliptical form of the oath, we have seen, in a previous psalm, that this was a manner of swearing quite common among the Hebrews. Thus they were warned that the name of God was not to be used without due consideration, lest, by using it rashly and irreverently, they should draw down upon themselves the Divine vengeance. The abrupt and suspended form of expression was, as it were, a bridle to restrain them, and give them opportunity for reflection. It is no uncommon thing for God to borrow something from the common custom of men.
(551) “ Par lesqnels moyens ils ont pensé se racheter pour eschapper la main et vengence de Dieu.” — Fr.
36. His seed shall endure for ever. There now follows the promise that the right of sovereignty shall always remain with the posterity of David. These two things — his offspring and his throne, are conjoined; and by these words the everlasting duration of the kingdom is promised, so that it should never pass to those who were of a strange and different race. The sun and the moon are produced as witnesses; for although they are creatures subject to corruption, they yet possess more stability than the earth or air; the elements, as we see, being subject to continual changes. As the whole of this lower world is subject to unceasing agitation and change, there is presented to us a more steadfast state of things in the sun and moon, that the kingdom of David might not be estimated according to the common order of nature. Since, however, this royal throne was shaken in the time of Rehoboam, as we have before had occasion to remark, and afterwards broken down and overthrown, it follows that this prophecy cannot be limited to David. For although at length the outward majesty of this kingdom was put an end to without hope of being re-established, the sun ceased not to shine by day, nor the moon by night. Accordingly, until we come to Christ, God might seem to be unfaithful to his promises. But in the branch which sprung from the root of Jesse, these words were fulfilled in their fullest sense. (552)
(552) “ Once. Emphatic. It needs not to be repeated: nor will be.” — Walford.
38. But thou hast abhorred and rejected him. Here the prophet complains that in consequence of the decayed state of the kingdom, the prophecy appeared to have failed of its accomplishment. Not that he accuses God of falsehood; but he speaks in this manner, that he may with all freedom cast his cares and griefs into the bosom of God, who permits us to deal thus familiarly with him. It doubtless becomes us to frame our desires according to the divine will; but that person cannot be said to pass beyond due bounds who humbly laments that he is deprived of the tokens of the divine favor, provided be does not despair, or rebelliously murmur against God; and we shall afterwards see that the prophet, when he blesses God at the close of the psalm, affords a proof of tranquil submission, by which he corrects or qualifies his complaints. Whoever, therefore, that Rabbin was who maintained that it is unlawful to recite this psalm, he was led by a foolish and impious peevishness to condemn what God bears with in his children. In taking this liberty of expostulating with God, the prophet had no other object in view than that he might the more effectually resist distrust and impatience, by unburdening himself in the divine presence. Farther, the words, Thou hast abhorred and rejected him, if criticised according to the rules of the Greek and Latin language, will be pronounced inelegant; for the word which is most emphatic is put first, and then there is added another which is less emphatic. But as the Hebrews do not observe our manner of arrangement in this respect, the order here adopted is quite consistent with the idiom of the Hebrew language. The third verb contains the reason of this change on the part of God, teaching us that the king was rejected because God was incensed against him. It is thought by some that there is here a recital of the mockery in which the enemies of the chosen people indulged, an opinion which they adopt to avoid the difficulty arising from viewing this severe kind of complaint, as uttered by the Church, which proved such a stumbling-block to the Rabbin above referred to, that on account of it he condemned the whole psalm. But it is to be observed, that the prophet speaks according to the common feeling and apprehension of men; while at the same time he was fully convinced in his own mind, that the king who had been once chosen by God could not be rejected by him.
In the same sense we ought to understand what follows (verse 39) concerning the disannulling of the covenant — Thou hast made the covenant of thy servant to cease. The prophet does not charge God with levity and inconstancy: he only complains that those notable promises of which he had spoken had to appearance vanished and come to nought. Whenever the faithful put the question,“
How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord?” “Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord?” (Psalms 13:1,)
they assuredly are not to be understood as attributing forgetfulness or sleep to him: they only lay before him the temptations which flesh and blood suggest to them in order to induce him speedily to succor them under the infirmity with which they are distressed. It is not then wonderful, though the prophet, amidst such horrible desolation, was affected by the infirmities to which human nature is so liable in such circumstances, and thus prompted to make the assertion, that what God promised was far from being manifestly realised. When he saw all things going contrary to the Divine promise, he was not a man so steel-hearted as to remain unmoved at so pitiable and confused a spectacle. But coming freely into the Divine presence, he seeks a remedy that he might not be swallowed up with sorrow, which would have been the case had he indulged in secret repining, and neglected this means of alleviation. What is added in the close of the verse, Thou hast cast his crown to the earth, does not seem to apply to the time of Rehoboam, unless, perhaps, the dismemberment of the kingdom may be denoted by the casting of the crown to the earth. The statements which are made immediately after must necessarily be referred to some greater calamity. If this is admitted, the author of the psalm must have been a different person from Ethan, who was one of the four wise men, of whom mention is made in the sacred history, (Genesis 4:31.) In so doubtful a case, I leave every one to adopt the conjecture which appears to him the most probable.
40. Thou hast broken down all his walls. The prophet, although he might easily have found another cause to which to impute the breaking down and razing of the fortifications, yet under the influence of devout and sanctified feeling acknowledges God to be the author of this calamity; being fully convinced that men could not at their pleasure have destroyed the kingdom which God had set up had not the Divine anger been kindled. Afterwards speaking metaphorically, he complains that the kingdom was exposed as a prey to all passers-by, resembling a field or garden, of which the walls were broken down, and the ground laid open to depredation. As an aggravation of a calamity which in itself was sufficiently grievous, the additional indignity is brought forward, that the king was a reproach to his neighbors. The worldly and the profane, there can be no doubt, finding an opportunity so much according to their wishes, derided him, saying, Is this that king of God’s choice, a king more excellent than the angels, and whose throne was to continue as long as the sun and the moon should endure? As these railings recoiled upon God himself, the prophet justly complains of the reproachful derision with which God’s Anointed was treated, whose dignity and royal estate were ratified and confirmed by heavenly anointing.
42 Thou hast exalted the right hand of his oppressors. Here he states that God took part with the enemies of the king; for he was well aware that these enemies could not have prevailed but by the will of God, who inspires some with courage, and renders others faint-hearted. In short, in proportion to the number of the calamities which had befallen the chosen people, was the number of the evidences of their having been forsaken by God; for, so long as he continued his favor, the whole world, by all their machinations, were unable to impair the stability of that kingdom. Had it been said that the enemies of the king obtained the victory, the statement would have been quite true; but it would not have been a mode of expression so obviously fitted to exalt the Divine power; as it might have been thought that men setting themselves in opposition to God had, by their own power, forced their way, and effected their purpose, even against those who enjoyed his protection. Accordingly, the prophet reflects with himself, that unless the Divine anger had been incensed, that kingdom which God had erected could not have been reduced to a condition so extremely wretched.
45. Thou hast shortened the days of his youth. Some would explain this sentence as meaning, that God had weakened the king, so that he faded or withered away at his very entrance upon the flower of youth, and was exhausted with old age before reaching the period of manhood. (554) This exposition may be regarded as not improbable; but still it is to be observed, in order to our having a clearer understanding of the mind of the prophet, that he does not speak exclusively of any one individual, but compares the state of the kingdom to the life of man. His complaint then amounts to this, That God caused the kingdom to wax old, and finally to decay, before it reached a state of complete maturity; its fate resembling that of a young man, who, while yet increasing in strength and vigor, is carried away by a violent death before his time. This similitude is highly appropriate; for the kingdom, if we compare the state of it at that period with the Divine promise, had scarce yet fully unfolded its blossom, when, amidst its first advances, suddenly smitten with a grievous decay, its freshness and beauty were defaced, while at length it vanished away. Moreover, what we have previously stated must be borne in mind, that when the prophet complains that the issue does not correspond with the promise, or is not such as the promise led the chosen people to expect, he does not, on that account, charge God with falsehood, but brings forward this apparent discrepancy for another purpose — to encourage himself, from the consideration of the Divine promises, to come to the throne of grace with the greater confidence and boldness; and, while he urged this difficulty before God, he was fully persuaded that it was impossible for Him not to show himself faithful to his word. As the majority of men drink up their sorrow and keep it to themselves, because they despair of deriving any benefit from prayer so true believers, the more frankly and familiarly they appeal to God in reference to his promises, the more valiantly do they wrestle against their distrust, and encourage themselves in the hope of a favorable issue.
(554) “ Ou, as quitte l’alliance de ton serviteur.” — Fr. marg. “Or, thou hast quitted the covenant of thy servant.”
46. How long, O Jehovah? wilt thou hide thyself for ever? After having poured forth his complaints respecting the sad and calamitous condition of the Church, the Psalmist now turns himself to prayer. Whence it follows that the language of lamentation to which he had hitherto given utterance, although it emanated from carnal sense, was nevertheless conjoined with faith. Unbelievers, in the agitation of trouble, may sometimes engage in prayer, yet whatever they ask proceeds from feigned lips. But the prophet, by connecting prayer with his complaints, bears testimony that he had never lost his confidence in the truth of the Divine promises. With respect to this manner of expression, How long, for ever? we have spoken on Psalms 79:5, where we have shown that it denotes a long and continued succession of calamities. Moreover, by asking How long God will hide himself, he tacitly intimates that all will be well as soon as God is pleased to look upon his chosen people with a benignant countenance. In the second clause of the verse, he again mentions as the reason why God did not vouchsafe to look upon them with paternal favor, that his anger was incensed against them. The obvious conclusion from which is, that all the afflictions endured by us proceed from our sins; these being the scourges of an offended God.
47 Remember how short my time is. After having confessed that the severe and deplorable afflictions which had befallen the Church were to be traced to her own sins as the procuring cause, the prophet, the more effectually to move God to commiseration, lays before him the brevity of human life, in which, if we receive no taste of the Divine goodness, it will seem that we have been created in vain. That we may understand the passage the more clearly, it will be better to begin with the consideration of the last member of the verse, Why shouldst thou have created all the sons of men in vain? The faithful, in putting this question, proceed upon an established first principle, That God has created men and placed them in the world, to show himself a father to them. And, indeed, as his goodness extends itself even to the cattle and lower animals of every kind, (558) it cannot for a moment be supposed, that we, who hold a higher rank in the scale of being than the brute creation, should be wholly deprived of it. Upon the contrary supposition, it were better for us that we had never been born, than to languish away in continual sorrow. There is, moreover, set forth the brevity of the course of our life; which is so brief, that unless God make timely haste in giving us some taste of his benefits, the opportunity for doing this will be lost, since our life passes rapidly away. The drift of this verse is now very obvious. In the first place, it is laid down as a principle, That the end for which men were created was, that they should enjoy God’s bounty in the present world; and from this it is concluded that they are born in vain, unless he show himself a father towards them. In the second place, as the course of this life is short, it is argued that if God does not make haste to bless them, the opportunity will no longer be afforded when their life shall have run out.
But here it may be said, in the first place, that the saints take too much upon them in prescribing to God a time in which to work; and, in the next place, that although he afflict us with continual distresses, so long as we are in our state of earthly pilgrimage, yet there is no ground to conclude from this that we have been created in vain, since there is reserved for us a better life in heaven, to the hope of which we have been adopted; and that, therefore, it is not surprising though now our life is hidden from us on earth. I answer, That it is by the permission of God that the saints take this liberty of urging him in their prayers to make haste; and that there is no impropriety in doing so, provided they, at the same time, keep themselves within the bounds of modesty, and, restraining the impetuosity of their affections, yield themselves wholly to his will. With respect to the second point, I grant that it is quite true, that although we must continue to drag out our life amidst continual distresses, we have abundant consolation to aid us in bearing all our afflictions, provided we lift up our minds to heaven. But still it is to be observed, in the first place, that it is certain, considering our great weakness, that no man will ever do this unless he has first tasted of the Divine goodness in this life; and, secondly, that the complaints of the people of God ought not to be judged of according to a perfect rule, because they proceed not from a settled and an undisturbed state of mind, but have always some excess arising from the impetuosity or vehemence of the affections at work in their minds. I at once allow that the man who measures the love of God from the state of things as presently existing, judges by a standard which must lead to a false conclusion;“
for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth,” (Hebrews 12:6.)
But as God is never so severe towards his own people as not to furnish them with actual experimental evidence of his grace, it stands always true that life is profitless to men, if they do not feel, while they live, that He is their father.
As to the second clause of the verse, it has been stated elsewhere that our prayers do not flow in one uniform course, but sometimes betray an excess of sorrow. It is, therefore, not to be wondered at that the faithful, when immoderate sorrow or fear occupies their thoughts and keeps fast hold of them, experience such inattention stealing by degrees upon them, as to make them for a time forget to keep their minds fixed in meditation upon the life to come. Many think it very unaccountable, if the children of God do not, the first moment they begin to think, immediately penetrate into heaven, as if thick mists did not often intervene to impede or hinder us when we would look attentively into it. For faith to lose its liveliness is one thing, and for it to be utterly extinguished is another. And, doubtless, whoever is exercised in the judgments of God, and in conflict with temptations, will acknowledge that he is not so mindful of the spiritual life as he ought to be. Although then the question, Why shouldst thou have created all the sons of men in vain? is deduced from a true principle, yet it savours somewhat of a faulty excess. Whence it appears that even in our best framed prayers, we have always need of pardon. There always escapes from us some language or sentiment chargeable with excess, and therefore it is necessary for God to overlook or bear with our infirmity.
(558) This appeal respecting the universality of death, and the impossibility of avoiding it, meets with a ready response in the bosom of every child of Adam, however exalted or humble his lot. And, when death has once seized on its victim, all the wealth, power, and skill of the world cannot spoil the grave of its dominion. The admirable lines of Gray, in his celebrated Elegy, furnish a very good comment on this verse: —“
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave, Await alike th’ inevitable hour: — The paths of glory lead but to the grave.“
Can storied urn, or animated bust, Back to its mansions call the fleeting breath? Can Honour’s voice provoke the silent dust, Or Flatt’ry soothe the dull cold ear of Death?”
48. What man shall live, and shall not see death? This verse contains a confirmation of what has been already stated concerning the brevity of human life. The amount is, that unless God speedily hasten to show himself a father to men, the opportunity of causing them to experience his grace will no longer exist. The original word גבר, geber, which we have translated man, is derived from the verb גבר, gabar, he was strong, or he prevailed; and the sacred writer employs this word, the more forcibly to express the truth, that no man is privileged with exemption from the dominion of death.
49. O Lord! where are thy former mercies? The prophet encourages himself, by calling to remembrance God’s former benefits, as if his reasoning were, That God can never be unlike himself, and that therefore the goodness which he manifested in old time to the fathers cannot come to an end. This comparison might indeed make the godly despond, when they find that they are not dealt with by him so gently as he dealt with the fathers, did not another consideration at the same time present itself to their minds — the consideration that he never changes, and never wearies in the course of his beneficence. As to the second clause of the verse, some interpreters connect it with the first, by interposing the relative, thus: — Where are thy former mercies which thou hast sworn? In this I readily acquiesce; for the sense is almost the same, although the relative be omitted. God had given evident and indubitable proofs of the truth of the oracle delivered to Samuel; (559) and, therefore, the faithful lay before him both his promise and the many happy fruits of it which had been experienced. They say, in truth, that they may with the greater confidence apply to themselves, whatever tokens of his liberality God had in old time bestowed upon the fathers; for they had the same ground to expect the exercise of the Divine goodness towards them as the fathers had, God, who is unchangeably the same, having sworn to be merciful to the posterity of David throughout all ages.
(559) “ Sur les asnes et chevaux, et autres bestes brutes.” — Fr. “To asses and horses, and other brute beasts.”
50. O Lord! remember the reproach of thy servants. They again allege, that they are held in derision by the ungodly, — a consideration which had no small influence in moving God to compassion: for the more grievous and troublesome a temptation it is, to have the wicked deriding our patience, that, after having made us believe that God is not true in what he has promised, they may precipitate us into despair; the more ready is he to aid us, that our feeble minds may not yield to the temptation. The prophet does not simply mean that the reproaches of his enemies are to him intolerable, but that God must repress their insolence in deriding the faith and patience of the godly, in order that those who trust in him may not be put to shame. He enhances still more the same sentiment in the second clause, telling us, that he was assailed with all kind of reproaches by many peoples, or by the great peoples, for the Hebrew word רבים, rabbim, signifies both great and many
Moreover, it is not without cause, that, after having spoken in general of the servants of God, he changes the plural into the singular number. He does this, that each of the faithful in particular may be the more earnestly stirred up to the duty of prayer. The expression, in my bosom, is very emphatic. It is as if he had said, The wicked do not throw from a distance their insulting words, but they vomit them, so to speak, upon the children of God, who are thus constrained to receive them into their bosom, and to bear patiently this base treatment. Such is the perversity of the time in which we live, that we have need to apply the same doctrine to ourselves; for the earth is full of profane and proud despisers of God, who cease not to make themselves merry at our expense. And as Satan is a master well qualified to teach them this kind of rhetoric, the calamities of the Church always furnish them with matter for exercising it. Some take bosom for the secret affection of the heart; but this exposition seems to be too refined.
51. With which thy enemies, O Jehovah! have reproached thee. What the Psalmist now affirms is, not that the wicked torment the saints with their contumelious language, but that they revile even God himself. And he makes this statement, because it is a much more powerful plea for obtaining favor in the sight of God, to beseech him to maintain his own cause, because all the reproaches by which the simplicity of our faith is held up to scorn recoil upon himself, than to beseech him to do this, because he is wounded in the person of his Church; according as he declares in Isaiah,“
Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed; and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? even against the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 37:23)
That wicked robber Rabshakeh thought that he scoffed only at the wretched Jews whom he besieged, and whose surrender of themselves into his hands he believed he would soon witness; but God took it as if he himself had been the object whom that wicked man directly assailed. On this account also, the prophet calls these enemies of his people the enemies of God; namely, because in persecuting the Church with deadly hostility, they made an assault upon the majesty of God, under whose protection the Church was placed.
In the second clause, by the footsteps of Messiah or Christ is meant the coming of Christ, even as it is said in Isaiah 52:7,“
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace!” (Isaiah 52:7)
The Hebrew word עקב, akeb, sometimes signifies the heel; but here, as in many other passages, it signifies the sole of the foot. Others translate it the pace or step, but this gives exactly the same sense. There can be no doubt, that footsteps, by the figure synecdoche, is employed to denote the feet; and again, that by the feet, according to the figure metonomy, is meant the coming of Christ. The wicked, observing that the Jews clung to the hope of redemption, and patiently endured all adversities because a deliverer had been promised them, disdainfully derided their patience, as if all that the prophets had testified concerning the coming of Christ had been only a fable. (560) And now also, although he has been once manifested to the world, yet as, in consequence of his having been received up into the glory of heaven, he seems to be far distant from us, and to have forsaken his Church, these filthy dogs scoff at our hope, as if it were a mere delusion.
(560) “ De la revelation faite a Samuel.” — Fr.
52. Blessed be Jehovah for ever! I am surprised why some interpreters should imagine, that this verse was added by some transcriber in copying the book, affirming, that it does not correspond with the context: as if the language of praise and thanksgiving to God were not as suitable at the close of a psalm as at the opening of it. I have therefore no doubt, that the prophet, after having freely bewailed the calamities of the Church, now, with the view of allaying the bitterness of his grief, purposely breaks forth into the language of praise. As to the words Amen, and Amen, I readily grant, that they are here employed to distinguish the book. (561) But whoever composed this psalm, there is no doubt, that by these words of rejoicing, the design of the writer was to assuage the greatness of his grief in the midst of his heavy afflictions, that he might entertain the livelier hope of deliverance.
(561) Or, as if our Redeemer were slow-paced, halt, or lame, and his Church should never behold his steps. With this agrees the Chaldee paraphrase: — “The slowness of the footsteps of the feet of thy Messiah or anointed.” Kimchi renders, “the delays of the Messiah;” “the discourse,” he observes, “being of those who say that he will never come.” A similar style of speech has been employed by the enemies of the gospel, as Calvin goes on to observe, who scoffingly asked in the days of the apostles, and who still ask, “Where is the promise of his coming?” 2 Peter 3:4.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Psalms 89". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter