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Psalm 40:4-5

4. Blessed is the man who hath set Jehovah for his confidence, and hath not regarded the proud, and those who turn aside to lying. 8282     “A vanite.” — Fr. “To vanity.” 5. Many are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, O Jehovah! my God: and it is impossible to reckon up in order to thee, 8383     “Devant toy.” — Fr. “Before thee, or in thy presence.” thy counsels towards us. I will declare and speak of them; they are more than can be told.

 

4. Blessed is the man who hath set Jehovah for his confidence David here relates what ground for good hope his deliverance would give to all the faithful; inasmuch as, setting aside all the allurements of the world, they would thereby be encouraged to commit themselves with confidence to the protection of God; persuaded not only that they are happy who trust in him alone, but that all other expectations at variance with this are deceitful and cursed. This assurance is not natural to us, but is derived partly from the word of God, and partly from his works; although, as I have said before, the contemplation alone of the works of God would not kindle this light within us, unless God, illuminating us by his word, should show us his benevolence. After having promised to be gracious to us, in manifesting also his goodness by indubitable proofs, he confirms with his own hand what he had previously uttered with his lips. David, therefore, from the fact of his having been restored to life from the abyss of death, justly declares that the faithful are taught from this proof — what men are naturally so reluctant to believe — that they are happy who trust in God alone.

As the instability of our nature commonly tends to draw us downward, and as all of us, from our proneness to yield to delusions, are tempted by many wicked examples, David immediately adds, that he is blessed who regardeth not the proud Some, indeed, render רהבים, rehabim, the rich, or the great of this world, but improperly, in my opinion; because pride, and turning aside to lies, are two things which David here joins together. To regard the great of the earth, therefore, does not signify, as they suppose, to rely upon their power and riches, as if a man’s welfare depended thereupon, but it rather means to be carried away by their examples, to imitate their conduct. When we are everywhere constantly seeing men puffed up with pride, who despise God, and place their highest felicity in ambition, in fraud, in extortion, in guile, a perverse desire of imitating them steals upon us by degrees; and, especially when every thing turns out according to their wishes, a vain and delusive expectation solicits us to try the same course. David, therefore, wisely, and not without good reason, warns us, that in order to have our mind constantly fixed in simple reliance upon God alone, we must guard against those evil examples which ever seek to allure us on all sides to apostatise from him. Moreover, when he says that the proud turn aside to lying, or vanity, 8484     “Ou vanite“ — Fr. in this way he describes briefly the foolish confidence of the flesh. What else is the pride of those who put their own fancies in the place of God but a vain illusion? Certainly the man who, puffed up by the breath of fond conceit, arrogates any thing in the least degree to himself, flatters himself to his own destruction. In short, pride and vanity are opposed to the holy confidence which relies upon God alone; for there is nothing more difficult to the flesh than to trust in God alone, and the world is always full of proud and haughty men, who, soothing themselves with vain allurements, would soon corrupt the minds of the godly, if this arrest were not laid upon them, to restrain, as with a bridle, their erroneous and extravagant opinions.

5. Many are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, O Jehovah! Interpreters are not entirely agreed as to these words; but it is generally admitted that David here contemplates with admiration the providence of God in the government of mankind. And first of all, he exclaims that the wonders of God’s works are great or many; 8585     “Sont grandes ou infinies.” — Fr. “Are great or innumerable.” meaning by this, that God in his inscrutable wisdom so governs human affairs, that his works, which come to be little thought of by men, from their constant familiarity with them, far surpass the comprehension of the human understanding. Thus we find, that from one particular species he ascends to the whole class; as if he had said, God has proved not only by this particular act the paternal care which he exercises towards men, but that, in general, his wonderful providence shines forth in the several parts of creation. Then he adds, that the counsels of God concerning us are so high and so hidden, that it is impossible to reckon them up in order distinctly and agreeably to their nature. Some think that the word אלינו, elenu, towards us, is employed by way of comparison, in this sense, The counsels of God are far beyond the reach of our understanding, (but David rather commends the care which God vouchsafes to take of us;) and as, in this way, the connection of the words is broken, they are constrained to render the word ערוד, aroch, which I have rendered to count in order, differently, namely, that none is equal to God, or can be compared with him. 8686     “This verb,” says Ainsworth, “is sometimes used for matching or comparing.” In this sense the word occurs in Psalm 89:7; and this is the sense in which the Septuagint understands it here: “Καὶ τοῖς διαλογισμοῖς σου οὐχ ἔστι τις ὁμοιωθήσεται σοι;” — “and in thy thoughts there is none who shall be likened to thee.” Street reads, “There is none to be compared to thee;” and observes, that “above sixty copies of Dr Kennicott’s collection have ערוך, the passive participle here, instead of ערך.” But that I may not enter upon any lengthened refutation, the intelligent reader will agree with me in considering that the true meaning is this: That God, by his incomprehensible wisdom, governs the world in such a manner that we cannot reckon up his works in their proper order, seeing our minds, through their very dulness, fail us before we can reach to so great a height. It follows, to thee, for although we should in so far reflect how wonderfully the Lord can make provision for our wants, yet this consideration is limited by the imperfection of our understanding: and hence it falls far short of the infinite glory of God. Those who give this explanation, that the counsels of God are not referred to him, because the greatest part of men imagine that every thing is subject to chance and fortune, as if David meant in passing to censure the ingratitude of those who defraud God of his praise, are no doubt mistaken as to the meaning. In stating, as David does, immediately after, that however much he might set himself to rehearse the works of God, he yet would fail ere he could declare the half of them; — in stating this he shows with sufficient plainness that the godly and devout meditation, in which the children of God are often engaged, gives them only, as it were, a slight taste of them and nothing more. We have now arrived then at the Psalmist’s meaning. Having spoken before of the deliverance which God had vouchsafed to him, he takes occasion from it to set forth the general providence of God in nourishing and sustaining men. It is also his design in this to exhort the faithful to a consideration of God’s providence, that they may not hesitate to cast all their cares upon it. Whilst some are in constant pain by reason of their own anxiety and discontent, or quake at the slightest breeze that blows, and others labor hard to fortify and preserve their life by means of earthly succours, — all this proceeds from ignorance of the doctrine, that God governs the affairs of this world according to his own good pleasure. And as the great majority of men, measuring the providence of God by their own understanding, wickedly obscure or degrade it, David, placing it on its proper footing, wisely removes this impediment. The meaning of the sentence, therefore, amounts to this, that in the works of God men should reverently admire what they cannot comprehend by their reason; and whenever the flesh moves them to contradiction or murmuring, they should raise themselves above the world. If God cease to work, he seems to be asleep, because, binding up his hands to the use of outward means, we do not consider that he works by means which are secret. We may therefore learn from this place, that although the reason of his works may be hidden or unknown to us, he is nevertheless wonderful in his counsels.

This verse is closely connected with the preceding. No man places, as he ought, entire trust in God, but he who, shutting his eyes upon external circumstances, suffers himself to be governed by him according to his good pleasure. Moreover, having spoken hitherto in the third person, David now suddenly addresses his discourse, not, however, unadvisedly, to God, that he might lead us the more effectually to this sobriety and discretion. When, however, he affirms that the works of God cannot be distinctly known by us, it is not for the purpose of deterring us from seeking the knowledge of them, or from the examination of them, but only to lay a restraint upon our rashness, which would otherwise go beyond the proper boundaries in this respect. To this end, the words to thee, or before thee, are expressly employed, by which we are admonished that however diligently a man may set himself to meditate upon the works of God, he can only attain to the extremities or borders of them. Although then so great a height be far above our reach, we must, notwithstanding, endeavor, as much as in us lies, to approach it more and more by continual advances; as we see also the hand of God stretched forth to disclose to us, so far as it is expedient, those wonders, which we are unable of ourselves to discover. There is nothing so preposterous as to affect, of one’s own accord, a gross ignorance of the providence of God, because as yet we cannot comprehend it perfectly, but only discern it in part; even as at this day we find some who employ all their endeavors to bury it in oblivion, for no other pretense than that it surpasses our understanding, as if it were unreasonable to allow to God anything more than what appears right and proper, according to our carnal reason. David acts very differently regarding it. Feeling all his senses absorbed by an inconceivable majesty and brightness, which he could not bear to look upon, 8787     “Sentant tous ses sens engloutis d’une majeste et resplendeur infinie, que sa veue pouvoit porter.” — Fr. he confesses frankly that these are wonderful things of which he could not comprehend the reason; but still he does not abstain wholly and everywhere from making mention of them, but, according to the measure of his capacity, sets himself devoutly to meditate upon them. From this we learn how foolish and vain a thing it is to say, by way of caution, that none should speak of the counsels or purposes of God, because they are high and incomprehensible. David, on the contrary, though he was ready to sink under the weight, ceased not to contemplate them, and abstained not from speaking of them, because he felt unequal to the task of rehearsing them, but was content, after having declared his faith on this subject, to finish his discourse in admiration.


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