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Psalm 36:5-9

5. O Jehovah! thy mercy is unto the heavens, and thy truth even unto the clouds. 6. Thy righteousness is as the mountains of God; 44     In the French version it is, “Comme hautes montagnes;” — “as the high mountains;” and in the margin Calvin states that the Hebrew is, “Montagnes de Dieu;” — “Mountains of God.” The Hebrews were accustomed to describe things eminent, as Calvin observes in his exposition of the verse, by adding to them the name of God; as, “river of God;" Psalm 65:9; “mount of God,” Psalm 68:15; “cedars of God,” Psalm 80:10; “the trees of the Lord,” Psalm 104:16. “The mountains of God,” therefore, here mean the highest mountain. thy judgments are a great deep: 55     Lowth reads, “A vast abyss.” O Jehovah! thou preservest man and beast. 7. O God! how excellent 66     Heb. — how precious. is thy loving-kindness! therefore, the children of men shall trust in the shadow of thy wings. 8. They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them to drink of the river of thy pleasures. 9. For with thee 77     “En toy.” — Fr. “In thee.” is the fountain of life; and in thy light 88     “Par ta clarte.” — Fr. “By thy light.” shall we see light.

 

5. O Jehovah! thy mercy is unto the heavens. Commentators think that David, after having described the great corruption and depravity which every where prevail in the world, takes occasion from thence to extol in rapturous praises the wonderful forbearance of God, in not ceasing to manifest his favor and good-will towards men, even though they are sunk in iniquity and crime. But, as I have already observed, I am of a somewhat different opinion. After having spoken of the very great depravity of men, the prophet, afraid lest he should become infected by it, or be carried away by the example of the wicked, as by a flood, quits the subject, and recovers himself by reflecting on a different theme. It usually happens, that in condemning the wicked, the contagion of their malice insinuates itself into our minds when we are not conscious of it; and there is scarcely one in a hundred who, after having complained of the malice of others, keeps himself in true godliness, pure and unpolluted. The meaning therefore is, Although we may see among men a sad and frightful confusion, which, like a great gulf, would swallow up the minds of the godly, David, nevertheless, maintains that the world is full of the goodness and righteousness of God, and that he governs heaven and earth on the strictest principles of equity. And certainly, whenever the corruption of the world affects our minds, and fills us with amazement, we must take care not to limit our views to the wickedness of men who overturn and confound all things; but in the midst of this strange confusion, it becomes us to elevate our thoughts in admiration and wonder, to the contemplation of the secret providence of God. David here enumerates four cardinal attributes of Deity, which, according to the figure of speech called synecdoche, include all the others, and by which he intimates, in short, that although carnal reason may suggest to us that the world moves at random, and is directed by chance, yet we ought to consider that the infinite power of God is always associated with perfect righteousness. In saying that the goodness of God is unto the heavens, David’s meaning is, that in its greatness it is as high as the heavens. In the same sense he adds, Thy truth is even unto the clouds The term truth in this place may be taken either for the faithfulness which God manifests in accomplishing his promises, or for the just and well regulated character of his government, in which his rectitude is seen to be pure and free from all deception. But there are many other similar passages of Scripture which constrain me to refer it to the promises of God, in the keeping and fulfilling of which he is ever faithful.

6. Thy righteousness is as the mountains of God In this verse there is a commendation of God’s righteousness, which the sacred writer compares to the high mountains, (this being the manner of the expression — “the mountains of God,” for we know that the Hebrews were accustomed to distinguish by the appellation divine, or of God, whatever is excellent,) because his glory shines forth more clearly there. In the last place, it is said, that his judgments are like a great and bottomless abyss. By these words he teaches us, that to whatever side we turn our eyes, and whether we look upward or downward, all things are disposed and ordered by the just judgment of God. This passage is usually quoted in a sense quite different, namely, that the judgments of God far exceed our limited capacity, and are too mysterious for our being able to comprehend them; and, indeed, in this sense the similitude of an abyss is not inappropriate. It is, however, obvious from the context, that the language of the Psalmist is to be understood in a much more extensive sense, and as meaning, that however great the depth of wickedness which there is among men, and though it seems like a flood which breaks forth and overflows the whole earth, yet still greater is the depth of God’s providence, by which he righteously disposes and governs all things. Whenever, therefore, our faith may be shaken by the confusion and disorder of human affairs, and when we are unable to explain the reasons of this disorder and confusion, let us remember that the judgments of God in the government of the world are with the highest propriety compared to a great depth which fills heaven and earth, that the consideration of its infinite greatness may ravish our minds with admiration, swallow up all our cares, and dispel all our sorrows. When it is added in the end of the verse, O Jehovah! thou preservest man and beast, the meaning is to this effect, that since God vouchsafes to extend his providential care even to the irrational creation, much more does he provide for the wants of men. And, indeed, whenever any doubt may arise in our minds regarding the providence of God, we should fortify and encourage ourselves by setting before us this consideration, that God, who provides food for the beasts of the field, and maintains them in their present state, can never cease to take care of the human race. The explanation which some have given of the term beasts, interpreting it allegorically of beastly men, I regard as too forced, and reject it.

7 O God! how precious is thy loving-kindness! Some explain these words in this sense: That the mercy of God is precious, and that the children of men who put their trust in it are precious; but this is a sense too far removed from the words of the text. Others understand them as meaning, that the mercy of God is very great to the gods, that is to say, to the angels and the sons of men; but this is too refined. I am also surprised that the Jewish Rabbins have wearied and bewildered themselves, without any occasion, in seeking to find out new and subtile interpretations, since the meaning of the prophet is of itself perfectly evident; namely, that it is because the mercy of God is great and clearly manifested, that the children of men put their trust under the shadow of it. As David has hitherto been speaking in commendation of the goodness of God, which extends to every creature, the opinion of other commentators, who consider that David is here discoursing of the peculiar favor which God manifests towards his children, is in my judgment very correct. The language seems to refer in general to all the sons of men, but what follows is applicable properly to the faithful alone. In order to manifest more clearly the greatness of divine grace, he thus speaks in general terms, telling us, that God condescends to gather together under his wings the mortal offspring of Adam, as it is said in Psalm 8:4,

“What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
and the son of man, that thou visitest him?”

The substance of the passage is this: The ungodly may run to every excess in wickedness, but this temptation does not prevent the people of God from trusting in his goodness, and casting themselves upon his fatherly care; while the ungodly, whose minds are degraded, and whose hearts are polluted, never taste the sweetness of his goodness so as to be led by it to the faith, and thus to enjoy repose under the shadow of his wings. The metaphorical expression of wings, as applied to God, is common enough in Scripture. 99     “Frequens in Psalmis figura ab alio Cherubinorum Arcae,” etc. i.e. “A common figure in the Psalms, taken more immediately, in my opinion, from the wings of the Cherubim overshadowing the mercy-seat which covered the ark; but more remotely from birds, which defend their young from the solar rays by overshadowing them with their wings. See Psalm 17:8; 57:1; 61:4; 91:4, etc., and Deuteronomy 32:11.” — Bishop Hare. By it God teaches us that we are preserved in safety under his protecting care, even as the hen cherishes her chickens under her wings; and thus he invites us kindly and affectionately to return to him.

8. They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of that house. I have no doubt that by the fatness of God’s house the prophet means the abundance of good things which is not designed for all men indiscriminately, but is laid up in store for the children of God who commit themselves wholly to his protection. Some restrict the expression to spiritual graces; but to me it seems more likely, that under it are comprehended all the blessings that are necessary to the happiness and comfort of the present life, as well as those which pertain to eternal and heavenly blessedness. It ought, however, to be observed, that in the style of speaking which the prophet here employs, the use of earthly blessings is connected with the gracious experience of faith, in the exercise of which we can alone enjoy them rightfully and lawfully to our own welfare. When the ungodly glut themselves with the abundance of God’s benefits, their bodies indeed grow fat like the flesh of cattle or swine, but their souls are always empty and famished. It is the faithful alone, as I have said, who are satisfied with the goodness of God towards them, because it is to them a pledge of his fatherly love. The expression meat and drink denotes a complete and perfect fullness, and the term river, 1010     The words in the original are, נחל עתיך, nachal adanecha, the river of thy Eden, in which there is probably an allusion to the garden of ערן Eden, and to the river which flowed through and watered it. denotes an overflowing abundance.

9. For with thee is the fountain of life The Psalmist here confirms the doctrine of the preceding verse, the knowledge of which is so profitable that no words can adequately express it. As the ungodly profane even the best of God’s gifts by their wicked abuse of them, unless we observe the distinction which I have stated, it were better for us to perish a hundred times of hunger, than to be fed abundantly by the goodness of God. The ungodly do not acknowledge that it is in God they live, move, and have their being, but rather imagine that they are sustained by their own power; and, accordingly, David, on the contrary, here affirms from the experience of the godly, and as it were in their name, that the fountain of life is in God. By this he means, that there is not a drop of life to be found without him, or which flows not from his grace. The metaphor of light, in the last clause of the verse, is tacitly most emphatic, denoting that men are altogether destitute of light, except in so far as the Lord shines upon them. If this is true of the light; of this life, how shall we be able to behold the light of the heavenly world, unless the Spirit of God enlighten us? for we must maintain that the measure of understanding with which men are by nature endued is such, that

“the light shineth in darkness,
but the darkness comprehendeth it not,” (John 1:5;)

and that men are enlightened only by a supernatural gift. But it is the godly alone who perceive that they derive their light from God, and that, without it, they would continue, as it were, buried and smothered in darkness.


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