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Psalm 119:49-56

ז 49. Remember thy word to thy servant, I, which thee hast made him hope. ז 50. This is my consolation in my affliction, because thy word revives me. ז 51. The proud have greatly scorched me: I have not turned aside from thy law. ז 52. I called to mind thy judgments of old, O Jehovah! and comforted myself. ז 53. Terror seized me, for’ the wicked who forsake thy law. ז 54. Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage. ז 55. By night I remembered thy name, O Jehovah! and I kept, thy law. ז 56. This is done to me, because I have kept thy statutes.

 

49. Remember thy word. He prays that God would really perform what he promised; for the event proves that he does not forget his word. That he is speaking of the promises we infer from the end of the verse, in which he declares, that cause was given him to hope, for which there would be no place unless grace had been presented to him. In the second verse he asserts, that though God still kept him in suspense, yet he reposed with confidence in his word. At the same time he informs us, that during his troubles and anxieties, he did not search after vain consolation as the world is wont to do who look around them in all quarters to find something to mitigate their miseries; and if any allurements tickle their fancy, they make use of these as a remedy for alleviating their sorrows. On the contrary, the prophet says he was satisfied with the word of God itself; and that when all other refuges failed him, there he found life full and perfect; nevertheless, he covertly confesses, that if he do not acquire courage from the word of God, he will become like a dead man. The ungodly may sometimes experience elevation of spirit during their miseries, but they are totally destitute of this inward strength of mind. The prophet, then, had good reason for stating, that in the time of affliction the faithful experience animation and rigor solely from the word of God inspiring them with life,. Hence, if we meditate carefully on his word, we shall live even in the midst of death, nor will we meet with any sorrow so heavy for which it will not furnish us with a remedy. And if we are bereft of consolation and succor in our adversities, the blame must rest with ourselves; because, despising or overlooking the word of God, we purposely deceive ourselves with vain consolation.

51. The proud have greatly scorned me This example is eminently useful, as it serves to inform us, that though our honesty may render us obnoxious to the insults of the ungodly, we ought, by our unflinching constancy, to repel their pride, lest we should take a dislike to the law of God. Many who, in other respects, would be disposed to fear God, yield to this temptation. The earth has always been filled with the impious contemners of God, and at this day it is almost overrun with them. Wherefore, if we do not disregard their reviling, there will be no stability in our faith. In calling unbelievers proud, he applies to them a very appropriate designation: for their wisdom consists in despising God, lightly esteeming his judgments, trampling all piety under foot, and, in short, pouring contempt upon the celestial kingdom. Were they not blinded with pride, they would not follow such a headlong course. We must interpret the words in this manner: Though the proud have treated me with scorn, I have not turned aside from thy law. We must not overlook the,, particle very much, or greatly, which imports, that he was harassed, not merely occasionally or for a short time, by the ungodly, but that the attack was continued from day to day. Let us learn from these words, that the wicked, in consequence of their forming the great majority of mankind, arrogate to themselves the greater liberty. The number of the godly who worship God reverently is always small. Hence we must hold out against a large troop and rabble of the impious if we would maintain our integrity.

52. I called to mind thy judgments of old, O Jehovah! In this psalm, the judgments of God are generally taken for his statutes and decrees, that is, his righteousness. 417417     “The Scriptures, like a true mirror, display the justice of God, in the punishment of sinners, and his goodness, in rendering righteousness.” — Dimock. In this place, in consequence of the qualifying phrase, of old, it is more probable that they refer to the examples by which God has made himself known as the righteous Judge of the world. Why does he say that the law of God has been from everlasting? This may to some extent be accounted for from the righteousness here mentioned not being of recent growth, but truly everlasting, because the written law is just an attestation of the law of nature, through means of which God recalls to our memory that which he has previously engraved on our hearts.

I am rather inclined to adopt another interpretation, That David remembered the judgments of God, by which he testified that he had established his law perpetually in the world, Such a settlement is very necessary for us; because, when God does not make bare his arm, his word frequently produces little impression. But when he takes vengeance upon the ungodly, he confirms what he had spoken; and this is the reason why in civil law penalties are called confirmations. The term accords better with God’s judgments, by which he establishes the authority of his law, as if a true demonstration accompanied his words. And seeing he declares that he called to mind the most ancient of God’s judgments, it becomes us to learn, that if his judgments are not displayed as frequently as we would desire, for the strengthening of our faith, this is owing to our ingratitude and apathy; for in no past age have there been wanting clear demonstrations for this very purpose; and thus it may with truth be affirmed, that God’s judgments have flowed in one continued manner from age to age, and that the reason why we have not perceived them is, our not deigning to open our eyes to behold them. If any one object, that it is contrary to the nature of his judgments to afford consolation to because they are calculated rather to strike us with terror, the answer is at handy — that the faithful are made to tremble for fear of God’s judgments, as far as is requisite for the mortification of their flesh. On the other hand, these supply them with a large source of consolation, from the fact of their learning from them, that God exercises his superintending providence over the human race. Farther, they learn, that after the wicked have reveled in licentiousness for a season, they shall at length be sisted before the judgment-seat of God; but that they themselves, after having patiently combated under such a Guardian of their welfare, can be in no doubt about their preservation.

53. Terror seized me 418418     The Hebrew word here used for terror is זלעפה, zalaphah, and is supposed to refer to the blasting or scorching wind, called the Simoom, well known to the Eastern nations. Accordingly, Michaelis reads, “A deadly East wind seizes me.” Cocceius reads, “Horror, as a tempest, has seized upon me.” “The sacred writer,” says he, “represents the vehement commotion of his mind as resembling a violent commotion in the air.” According to Dimock, זלעפה denotes, in this place, the burning fever which the pestilential winds in the East occasioned. The word occurs only three times in Scripture; here, in Psalm 11:7, and in Lamentations 5:10. Our translators have rendered it, in Psalm 11:7, by storm, and in Lamentations 5:10, in the margin, plurally by terrors or storms. See volume 1, page 168, note. This verse may be understood in two senses; either that the prophet was grievously afflicted when he saw God’s law violated by the wicked, or that he was horror-struck at the thought of their perdition. Some would render it ardor, which does not so properly agree with the nature of the passage; I therefore abide by the term fear, by which I think his ardent zeal is pointed out, in that he was not only deeply grieved at the transgressions of the law, but held in the utmost detestation the impious boldness of those who lightly esteemed the law of God. At the same time, it is worthy of notice, that it is no new ground of offense to the faithful, if numbers throw off God’s yoke, and set up the standard of rebellion against him. This, I repeat, must be attended to, because many derive flimsy and frivolous pretexts for it, from the degeneracy of the age, as if they must needs howl while they live among wolves. In the days of David, we see there were many who apostatized from the faith, and yet, so far was he from being discouraged or dismayed by these things, that the fear of God rather kindled a holy indignation in his bosom. What is to be done, then, when surrounded by bad examples, but that we should vie with each other in holding them up to detestation? And here a contrast, if not directly stated, is implied, between the flattering unction which we apply to ourselves, believing that all is lawful which is common, and the horror with which the prophet tells us he was seized. If the wicked, haughtily and without restraint, set themselves in opposition to God, in consequence of our not being alive to his judgments, we convert that into an occasion of perverse confidence and insensibility. On the contrary, the prophet asserts that he was seized with horror, because, though he considered the long-suffering of God, on the one hand, yet, on the other, he was fully persuaded that he must, sooner or later, call for condign punishment.

54. Thy statutes have been my songs. 419419     “In the early ages, it was customary to versify the laws, that the people might learn them by heart, and sing them.” — Williams. He repeats in different words what he had formerly mentioned, that the law of God was his sole or special delight during all his life. Singing is an indication of joy. The saints are pilgrims in this world, and must be regarded as God’s children and heirs of heaven, from the fact that they are sojourners on earth. By the house of their pilgrimage, then, may be understood their journey through life. One circumstance merits particular notice, that David, during his exile from his native country, ceased not to draw consolation, amid all his hardships, from the law of God, or rather a joy which rose above all the sadness which his banishment occasioned to him. It was a noble specimen of rare virtue, that when he was denied a sight of the temple, could not draw near to the sacrifices, and was deprived of the ordinances of religion, he yet never departed from his God. The phrase, the house of his pilgrimage, is employed, therefore, to enhance the conduct of David, who, when banished from his country, still retained the law of God deeply engraved on his heart, and who, amid the severity of that exile, which was calculated to deject his spirits, cheered himself by meditating upon the law of God.

55. By night I remembered thy name, O Jehovah! As the second clause of the verse depends on the first, I consider the whole verse as setting forth one and the same truth; and, therefore, the prophet means that he was induced, by the remembrance he had of God, to keep the law. Contempt of the law originates in this, that few have any regard for God; and hence, the Scripture, in condemning the impiety of men, declares that they have forgotten God, (Psalm 50:22; 78:11; 106:21). To rectify this, David exhorts that the remembrance of God is the only remedy for preserving us hi his fear, and in the observance of his law; and assuredly, as often as his majesty occurs to our minds, it will tend to humble us, and the very thought of it will provoke us to the cultivation of godliness. The word night is not intended by him to mean the remembering of God merely for, short time, but a perpetual remembrance of him; he, however, refers to that season in particular, because then almost all our senses are overpowered with sleep. “When other men are sleeping, God occurs to my thoughts during my sleep.” He has another reason for alluding to the night-season, That we may be apprised, that though there was none to observe him, and none to put him in remembrance of it, — yea, though he was shrouded in darkness, — yet he was as solicitous to cherish the remembrance of God, as if’ he occupied the most public and conspicuous place.

56. This was done to me. I doubt not that the prophet, under the term זאת, zoth, comprehends all God’s benefits; but as he comes before God in relation to blessings then being enjoyed by him, he speaks as if he were pointing to them. Hence, under this term is included an acknowledgment of all the benefits with which he had been crowned; or, at all events, he declares that God had borne testimony, by some signal deliverance, to the integrity of his conduct. He does not boast of meriting any thing, as the Pharisees in our day do, who, when they meet with any such matter in Scripture, pervert it to prove the merit of works. But the prophet had no other design, than to set himself in diametrical opposition to the despisers of God, who either impute all their prosperity to their own industry, or ascribe it to chance, and malignantly overlook or conceal God’s superintending providence. He therefore calls upon himself to return to God, and invites others to follow his example, and exhorts them, that as God is an impartial judge, he will always reserve a recompense for piety. Probably, too, by this holy boasting he repels the base slanders of the ungodly, by which we lately saw he was grievously assailed.


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