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Psalm 119:57-64

ח 57. Thou art my portion, O Jehovah! I have said I will keep thy words. ח 58. I have earnestly besought thy face with my whole heart; have mercy upon me according to thy word. ח 59. I thought upon my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies. ח 60. I made haste, and did not delay to keep thy commandments. ח 61. The cords of the wicked have caught hold of me; 420420     “Ou, les assemblees des meschans m’ont despouille’, ou pille.” — Fr. marg. “Or, the assemblies of the wicked have robbed me.” but I did not forget thy law. ח 62. I will rise at midnight to praise thee for thy righteous judgments. ח 63. I am a companion to all those who fear thee, and who keep thy precepts. ח 64. O Jehovah! the earth is full of thy mercy; teach me thy statutes.

 

57. Thou art my portion, O Jehovah! The meaning of this clause is doubtful, because the term Jehovah may be rendered either in the nominative or vocative case, and the phrase, I have said, may relate either to the former or latter part of the verse. One lection then is, Jehovah is my portion, and, therefore, I have resolved to observe thy law. Another is, O God! who art my portion, I have resolved to observe thy law. A third is, I have said, or have resolved, that God is my portion, in order to observe his law. A fourth is, I have said, or have resolved, O Lord! that my portion is to observe thy law; and this is the reading of which I approve. The following interpretation is quite applicable, That God being our portion, ought to animate and encourage us to observe his law. We have already noticed in several other passages, that God is denominated the heritage of the faithful, because he alone is sufficient for their full and entire happiness. And seeing he has chosen us for his peculiar possession, it is only reasonable on our part, that we should rest satisfied with him alone; and if we do this, our hearts will also be disposed to keep his law and, renouncing all the lusts of the flesh, our supreme delight, and firm resolution, will be to continue in the same.

I have already said, that this exposition is not inconsistent with the scope of the passage, and that it furnishes a very useful doctrine. But the last and fourth reading, of which I remarked I approved, is more simple, — I am fully persuaded that my best portion consists in keeping God’s law; — and this accords with the saying of Paul, “Godliness is the best gain,” (1 Timothy 6:6). David here draws a comparison between the keeping of the law, and the imaginary good which captivates the ambition of mankind. “Let every one covet what seems to him good, and revel in his own pleasures; I have no ground to envy them, provided I retain this as my portion, the complete surrender of myself to the word of God.”

58. I have earnestly besought thy face. In this verse David asserts, that he still persevered in the exercise of prayer; for without prayer faith would become languid and lifeless. The manner in which he expresses himself, which, in other languages, might be unpolished, among the Hebrews, expresses that familiar communication to which God admits, and even invites his servants when they come into his presence. The substance of his prayers, and the sum of his desires, he comprehends in a single sentence; namely, that he implored the mercy of God, the sure hope of which he had formed from his word. Let us observe, then, in the first place, we are aroused from our supineness, that we may exercise our faith by prayer. In the second place, the principal thing for which we ought to pray is, that God, out of his free grace, may be favorable to us, look on our affection, and grant us relief. God does, indeed, aid us in a variety of ways, and our necessities also are innumerable; still the thing which we must principally and particularly request is, that he: will have mercy upon us, which is the source of every other blessing. And, in the last place, that we may not present prayers that have no meaning, let us learn that God, in all his promises, is set before us as if he were our willing debtor.

59. I thought upon my ways 421421     “I thought on my ways חשבתי, chashabti, I deeply pondered them; I turned them upside down: I viewed my conduct on all sides. The word as used here is a metaphor taken from embroidering, where the figure must appear the same on the one side as it does on the other: therefore the cloth must be turned on each side every time the needle is set in, to see that the stitch be fairly set. Thus narrowly and scrupulously did the Psalmist examine his conduct; and the result was, a deep conviction that he had departed from the way of God and truth.” — Dr Adam Clarke The amount is, that after the prophet had paid due regard to his manner of life, his only aim then was to follow the teaching of the law. In these words he intimates indirectly, that if it be inquired why men go astray, and are miserably distracted amidst conflicting impulses, the reason is, their thoughtlessly indulging themselves in the gratification of their passions. Every man watches most carefully, and applies all his energy to whatever his inclination may lead him, but all are blind in choosing the object which they ought to pursue; or rather, as if their eyes were sealed, they are either hurried away inconsiderately, or else, through carelessness, wander imperceptibly from one object to another. One thing is certain, that there is no one who carefully considers his ways; and, therefore, it is not without reason the prophet exhorts us, that the commencement of a godly life consists in men awaking from their lethargy, examining their ways, and, at last, wisely considering what it is to regulate their conduct properly. He next instructs us, that when a person is inclined in good earnest to frame the course of his life well, there is nothing better than for him to follow the direction which the Lord points out. In fact, were not men infatuated, they would universally and unanimously make choice of God to be the guide of their life.

60. I made haste Though the words are in the past tense, they denote a continued act. The prophet declares with what promptitude he dedicated himself to the service of God. Diligence and dispatch demonstrate the favor of his zeal. Next, in saying that he delayed not, 422422     “The original word, which we translate delayed not, is amazingly emphatical. ולא התמהמהתי velo hethmahmaheti, I did not stand what, what, whating; or, as we used to express the same sentiment, shilly-shallying with myself; I was determined, and so set out. The Hebrew word, as well as the English, strongly marks indecision of mind, positive action being suspended, because the mind is so unfixed as not to be able to make a choice.” — Dr Adam Clarke this, according to the Hebrew idiom, gives intensity to the idea conveyed by the phrase, I made haste As among the Hebrews, to speak and not to keep silence is equivalent to speaking freely, unreservedly, and without dissimulation, as the occasion demands, so to make haste and not delay is to run quickly without doubt or delay. If we reflect on our own listlessness, and on the snares which Satan never fails to put in our way, we will at once perceive that these words are not added in vain. For let a man be ever so desirous of applying himself truly and heartily to the righteousness of God, yet, according to Paul, we know that he does not the thing that he would,” (Romans 7:15, 18, 19). Although no outward obstacle may stand in our way, yet we are so retarded by impediments within, that nothing is more difficult than to make haste to keep the law of God. At the same time we must remember, that the prophet is here speaking comparatively in reference to those who are chargeable with procrastination during the greater part of their life, and who draw near to God, not only hesitatingly and tardily, but also purposely loiter in their course, or else prevent themselves from coming by their tortuous ways. The prophet did not manifest more alacrity in serving God than Paul; all he intends, therefore, is, that having surmounted all obstacles which lay in his way, he prosecuted his journey with rapidity. And by his example he teaches us, that the pleas which we offer in extenuation of our indolence, either arising from the impediments presented by the world or our own infirmity, are vain and frivolous.

61. The cords of the wicked have caught hold of me. Those who translate חבלי, cheblei, by sorrows, bring out no natural meaning, and perplex themselves as well as wrest the passage. Two readings then remain, either of which may be admitted: The cords of the wicked have caught hold of me, or The companies of the wicked have robbed me. 423423     “The congregation of the ungodly have robbed me. — Common Prayer Book. Rather the cords of the wicked have unfolded me; i.e., their machinations have been directed against me, and not without effect. A cord, however, from its being composed of many strings twisted together, was used metaphorically by the Hebrews, as, the word band is by us, to denote a collection of men: and it is accordingly, in 1 Samuel 10:5, 10, rendered in our English Bible by company, in which sense it is here taken in the version of our Book of Common Prayer, after the Chaldee: the Septuagint gives the literal translation of the word.” — Cresswell. Whether we adopt the one or the other of these readings, what the prophet intends to declare is, that when Satan assailed the principles of piety in his soul, by grievous temptations, he continued with undeviating steadfastness in the love and practice of God’s law. Cords may, however, be understood in two ways; either, first, as denoting the deceptive allurements by which the wicked endeavored to get him entangled in their society; or, secondly, the frauds which they practiced to effect his ruin. If the first sense is preferred, David intimates that he had manifested a rare virtue, in continuing in the observance of God’s law, even when the wicked seemed to have involved him in their nets; but as it is more generally agreed that the verb עוד, ived, signifies to despoil or rob, let us adopt this interpretation — that the prophet being assailed by troops of the ungodly, and afterwards robbed and rifled at their pleasure, never deserted his ground. This was a proof of singular fortitude; for when we are exposed to dangers and wrongs of a more than ordinary kind, if God does not succour us we immediately begin to doubt of his providence: it seems to be of no advantage for a man to be godly; we imagine also that we may lawfully take revenge; and amidst these waves, the remembrance of the Divine law is easily lost, and, as it were, submerged. But the prophet assures us:, that to continue to love the law, and to practice righteousness, when we are exposed as a prey to the ungodly, and perceive no help from God, is an evidence of genuine piety.

62 I will rise at midnight to praise thee In this verse he shows not only that he approved and embraced with his whole heart whatever the Divine law contains, but that he also gave evidence of his gratitude to God for having made him partaker of so great a blessing. It seems to be quite a common thing professedly to assent to God when he teaches us by his law; for who would dare to lift up his voice against Him? But still the world is very far from acknowledging that the truth which he has revealed is in all respects reasonable. In the first place, such is the rebellion of our corrupt nature, that every man would have somewhat either altered or taken away. Again, if men had their choice, they would rather be governed by their own will than by the word of God. In short, human reason, as well as human passions, is widely at variance with the Divine law. He then has profited not little, who both obediently embraces revealed truth, and, taking sweet delight in it, gives thanks to God for it. The prophet, however, does not simply declare that he magnifies God’s righteous judgments; he also affirms that he rose at midnight to do so, by which he expresses the earnestness of his desire; for the studies and cares which break our sleep necessarily imply great earnestness of soul. He also, at the same time, intimates, that in bearing his testimony in behalf of the Divine law, he was far from being influenced by ostentation, since in his secret retirement, when no human eye was upon him, he pronounced the highest encomiums on God’s righteous judgments.

63. I am a companion to all those who fear thee He does not simply speak of the brotherly love and concord which true believers cultivate among themselves, but intimates that, whenever he met with any individual who feared God, he gave him his hand in token of fellowship, and that he was not only one of the number of God’s servants, but also their helper. Such concord is undoubtedly required in all the godly, that they may contribute to each other’s advancement in the fear of God. There seems to be a tacit comparison between this holy combination, by which the faithful mutually keep up and foster among themselves the worship of God and true godliness, and the impious associations which prevail every where in the world. We see how worldly men array their troops against God, and assist one another in their attempts to overthrow his worship. The more then is it necessary for the children of God to be stirred up to the maintenance of a holy unity. The Psalmist commends the faithful, first, for their fearing God, and, secondly, for their observing the law. The fear of God is the root or origin of all righteousness, and by dedicating our life to His service, we manifest that His fear dwells in our hearts.

64. O Jehovah! the earth is full of thy mercy Here the prophet beseeches God, in the exercise of his infinite goodness, which is reflected in every part of the world, graciously to make him a partaker of the treasure of heavenly wisdom — a manner of prayer which is very emphatic. When, therefore, he says that the earth is full of God’s mercy, it is a kind of earnest entreaty. He not only magnifies the goodness of God, in general, (as he does in other places,) in leaving no part of the world devoid of the proofs of his liberality, and in exercising it not only towards mankind, but also towards the brute creation. What does he then? He desires that the mercy of God, which is extended to all creatures, may be manifested towards him in one thing, and that is, by enabling him to make progress in the knowledge of the Divine law. Whence we gather, that he accounted the gift of understanding as an inestimable treasure. Now if to be endued with the spirit of understanding is a chief token of God’s favor, our want of this, proceeding from our own unbelief, is an indication of our alienation from him. It behooves us to remember what we have stated elsewhere, that it is an evidence that we have given ourselves up to the most shameful sloth, when, contented with a superficial knowledge of Divine truth, we are, in a great measure, indifferent about making further progress, seeing so renowned a teacher of the Church labored with the greatest ardor to become more and more acquainted with God’s statutes. Besides, it is certain that he does not here treat of external teaching, but of the inward illumination of the mind, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The law was exhibited to all without distinction; but the prophet, well aware that unless he were enlightened by the Holy Spirit, it would be of little advantage to him, prays that he may be taught effectually by supernatural influence.


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