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Psalm 91:13-16

13. Thou shalt walk over the lion and asp, the young lion and dragon shalt thou trample under feet. 14. Because he hath trusted in me, I will deliver him; because he hath known my name, I will set him on high. 15. He shall call upon me, and I shall answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and glorify him. 16. With length of days will I satisfy him, and I will show him my salvation.

 

13. Thou shalt walk over the lion and asp. The same truth is here expressed in different words. He had already spoken of the obstacles which Satan throws in our course under the figure of a stone. Now he speaks of the formidable troubles to which we are exposed in the world under the figures of the asp, lion, young lion, and dragon So long as we are here we may be truly said to walk amongst wild beasts, and such as threaten us with destruction. And in this case what would become of us did not God promise to make us victorious over the manifold evils which everywhere impend us? None who seriously considers the temptations to which he is liable will wonder that the Psalmist, with the view of removing apprehension from the minds of the Lord’s people, should have adopted the language of hyperbole; nor indeed will he say that it is the language of hyperbole, but a true and exact representation of their case. We boast much of our courage so long as we remain at a distance from the scene of danger; but no sooner are we brought into action, than in the smallest matters we conjure up to ourselves lions, and dragons, and a host of frightful dangers. The Psalmist accommodates his language to this infirmity of our carnal apprehension. The Hebrew word שחל, shachal, which in the Septuagint is rendered asp, 581581     Calvin’s reading of this verse is different from that of our English Bible. According to it, thou, in the first clause, refers to the Psalmist; while, according to him, it is to be understood of God. Hammond gives a similar version. “Because thou, O Lord! art my hope; thou hast made the Most High thy help or refuge.” All the ancient versions understand the first clause as spoken of God. In the Septuagint it is σὺ Κύριε ἡ ἔλπις μου, “thou, O Lord! art my hope.” Similar is the reading of the Chaldee, the Syriac, and Vulgate. But the last member of the verse, “thou hast made the Most High thy refuge,” is generally referred to the Psalmist, and regarded as a part of a soliloquy to which, when alone, his soul gave utterance. signifies a lion, and such repetition in the second member of the sentence is usual in the Hebrew. There is therefore no occasion for seeking any nice distinction which may have been intended in specifying these four different kinds of animals; only by the lion and young lion we are evidently to understand more open dangers, where we are assailed by force and violence, and by the serpent and dragon hidden mischiefs, where the enemy springs upon us insidiously and unexpectedly, as the serpent from its lurking place. 582582     ἀσπιδα. The most ancient versions correspond in this respect with the Septuagint, as the Vulgate, St Jerome’s, Apollinaris’, the Syriac, Arabic, and Æthiopic versions, rendering שחל, shachal, not by the lion but by the asp, though they are not agreed as to the particular kind of asp which is intended. This opinion is adopted by the learned Bochart, (Hieroz. volume 3, lib. 3, cap. 3,) who thinks it probable that throughout the verse serpents only are spoken of, and other interpreters have concurred in the same view. He thinks שחל, shachal, rendered “the lion,” is the black serpent, or hoemorhous; and כפיר, kepher, rendered “young lion,” has been supposed to be the cenchris, which Nicander (Theriac, 5, 463) calls λέων ἄιολος, the spotted lion, because he is speckled, and, like the lion, raises his tail when about to fight, and bites and gluts himself with blood. Bochart objects to the lion and young lion being meant, on the ground of the incongruity of animals of so very different a nature as lions and serpents being joined together; and observes, that to walk upon the lion seems not a very proper expression, as men do not in walking tread on lions as they do on serpents. But the lion and the young lion, the rendering of later interpreters, correspond to each other, and preserve the parallelism for which the Hebrew poetry is distinguished, and the reasons assigned by Bochart for setting it aside seem insufficient. The lion and the serpent are formidable animals to contend with; and Satan, one of the enemies to be “put in subjection under the feet of Christ,” is, in the New Testament, compared both to the lion and the dragon, (1 Peter 5:8; Revelation 12:9.) “Let it be added,” says Merrick, “that the Hebrew text says nothing of walking upon the lion, but has the word תדרך, which strictly signifies calcabis, thou shalt tread; and as to trample on the nations, and to make his enemies his footstool, are expressions used to signify the subduing and triumphing over them; to tread on the lion and the serpent may be understood in the same sense.”
   Cresswell thinks it probable that the language of this verse is proverbial. “The course of human life,” he remarks, “is in Scripture compared to a journey; and the dangers described in this verse were common to the wayfaring man in the Psalmist’s time and country.”

14. Because he hath trusted in me, I will deliver him. It may prevent any feeling of disgust or weariness under the repetition and enlargement of the Psalmist upon his present subject, to remember, that, as I have already observed, he is influenced in this by a due consideration of our weakness, ever indisposed, as we are upon the approach of danger, to exercise a due reliance upon the providence of God. With this view he now introduces God himself as speaking, and confirming by his own voice what had already been asserted. And here it is noticeable that God, in declaring from heaven that we shall be safe under the wings of his protection, speaks of nothing as necessary on the part of his people but hope or trust. For the Hebrew verb חשק, chashak, which signifies to desire, or love, or, as we commonly express it, to find our delight in any object, means here to rest with a sweet confidence in God, and rejoice in his favor. He engages to extend us assistance, if we seek him in sincerity. The language implies that we must be continually surrounded by death and destruction in this world, unless his hand is stretched out for our preservation. Occasionally he assists even unbelievers, but it is only to his believing people that his help is vouchsafed, in the sense of his being their Savior to the true extent of that term, and their Savior to the end. Their knowing the name of God is spoken of in connection with their trust and expectation; and very properly, for why is it that men are found casting their eyes vainly round them to every quarter in the hour of danger, but because they are ignorant of the power of God? They cannot indeed be said to know God at all, but delude themselves with a vague apprehension of something which is not God, a mere dead idol substituted for him in their imaginations. As it is a true knowledge of God which begets confidence in him, and leads us to call upon him; and as none can seek him sincerely but those who have apprehended the promises, and put due honor upon his name, the Psalmist with great propriety and truth represents this knowledge as being the spring or fountain of trust. That the doctrine which he teaches was needful we may learn from the senseless and erroneous manner in which the Papists speak of faith. While they inculcate an implicit adherence to God, they bury the word which opens up the only access which men can have to him. The expression to exalt or lift up on high means no more than to keep in a state of safety or security; but the reason of this metaphor is, that God preserves his people in an extraordinary manner, raising them, as it were, to some high and impregnable fortress.

15. He shall call upon me. He now shows more clearly what was meant by trusting in God, or placing our love and delight in him. For that affection and desire which is produced by faith, prompts us to call upon his name. This is another proof in support of the truth, which I had occasion to touch upon formerly, that prayer is properly grounded upon the word of God. We are not at liberty in this matter, to follow the suggestions of our own mind or will, but must seek God only in so far as he has in the first place invited us to approach him. The context, too, may teach us, that faith is not idle or inoperative, and that one test, by which we ought to try those who look for Divine deliverances, is, whether they have recourse to God in a right manner. We are taught the additional lesson, that believers will never be exempt from troubles and embarrassments. God does not promise them a life of ease and luxury, but deliverance from their tribulations. Mention is made of his glorifying them, intimating that the deliverance which God extends, and which has been spoken of in this psalm, is not of a mere temporary nature, but will issue at last in their being advanced to perfect happiness. He puts much honor upon them in the world, and glorifies himself in them conspicuously, but it is not till the completion of their course that he affords them ground for triumph. It may seem strange that length of days should be mentioned in the last verse as promised to them, since many of the Lord’s people are soon taken out of the world. But I may repeat an observation which has been elsewhere made, that those Divine blessings which are promised in relation to the present perishing world, are not to be considered as made good in a universal and absolute sense, or fulfilled in all according to one set and equal rule. 583583     “Dei benedictiones quae ad hanc caducam vitam spectant, non esse perpetuas, neque aequali tenore fluere.” — Lat. “Ne sont pas perpetuelles, et ne descoulent pas d’un fil continuel.” — Fr. Wealth and other worldly comforts must be looked upon as affording some experience of the Divine favor or goodness, but it does not follow that the poor are objects of the Divine displeasure; soundness of body and good health are blessings from God, but we must not conceive on this account that he regards with disapprobation the weak and the infirm. Long life is to be classed among benefits of this kind, and would be bestowed by God upon all his children, were it not for their advantage that they should be taken early out of the world. 584584     “With long life, etc. This was a blessing often pledged to good men during the Mosaic dispensation; though we cannot understand it as being universally accomplished, because God at that, as at every subsequent period, has reserved to himself, and to his own wisdom, ‘the times and the seasons.’” — Walford. They are more satisfied with the short period during which they live than the wicked, though their life should be extended for thousands of years. The expression cannot apply to the wicked, that they are satisfied with length of days; for however long they live, the thirst of their desires continues to be unquenched. It is life, and nothing more, which they riot in with such eagerness; nor can they be said to have had one moment’s enjoyment of that Divine favor and goodness which alone can communicate true satisfaction. The Psalmist might therefore with propriety state it as a privilege peculiarly belonging to the Lord’s people, that they are satisfied with life. The brief appointed term is reckoned by them to be sufficient, abundantly sufficient. Besides, longevity is never to be compared with eternity. The salvation of God extends far beyond the narrow boundary of earthly existence; and it is to this, whether we live or come to die, that we should principally look. It is with such a view that the Psalmist, after stating all the other benefits which God bestows, adds this as a last clause, that when he has followed them with his fatherly goodness throughout their lives, he at last shows them his salvation.


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