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Psalm 119:73-80

י 73. Thy hands have made and fashioned me: make me to understand, that I may learn thy commandments. י 74. They who fear thee shall see me and be glad; because I have hoped in thy word. י 75. I have known, O Jehovah! That thy judgments are justice; and thou hast humbled me in truth. י 76. I beseech thee let thy goodness be for my consolation, according to thy word to thy servant. י 77. Let thy compassion’s come unto me, and let me live: for thy law is my delight. י 78. Let the proud be put to shame; for they have falsely endeavored to pervert me: I will meditate on thy precepts. י 79. Let such as fear thee turn unto me, and those who have known thy testimonies. י 80. Let my heart be sound in thy statutes; that I may not be put to shame.

 

73. Thy hands have made and fashioned me. The avowal of the prophet, that he had been created by the hand of God, greatly contributed to inspire him with the hope of obtaining the favor which he supplicates. As we are the creatures and the workmanship of God, and as he has not only bestowed upon us vital motion, in common with the lower animals, but has, in addition thereto, given us the light of understanding and reasons — this encourages us to pray that he would direct us to the obedience of his law. And yet the prophet does not call upon God, as if He were under any obligations to him; but, knowing that God never forsakes the work which he has begun, he simply asks for new grace, by which God may carry on to perfection what he has commenced. We have need of the assistance of the law, since all that is sound in our understandings is corrupted; so that we cannot perceive what is right, unless we are taught from some other source. But our blindness and stupidity are still more strikingly manifest, from the fact that teaching will avail us nothing, until our souls are renewed by Divine grace. What I have previously said must be borne in mind.. That whenever the prophet prays for understanding being imparted to him, in order to his learning the Divine commandments, he condemns both himself and all mankind as in a state of blindness; for which the only remedy is the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

74. They who fear thee shall see me and be glad. This verse is either connected with the preceding, or it includes other benefits of God, besides the blessing mentioned in that verse. Whether the Psalmist adverts only to one particular species of blessing, or speaks generally, he by these words highly extols the benefits with which God had honored him, that all genuine saints in common might experience joy on that account. He does not mean to say that this joy proceeds solely from the trust which he reposed in God, but that it also proceeds from this, — that, having been preserved by him in a remarkable way, and loaded with many benefits, his hope had received an ample reward. As God invites all his servants in common to trust in him, it follows, that, whenever he exhibits a token of his grace towards any one of them, he testifies to all that he is faithful to his promises, and that they have no reason to be afraid of his disappointing those who trust in him.

75 I have known, O Jehovah / that thy judgments are justice. By judgments, in this psalm, we are to understand the precepts of the law; but as the prophet immediately adds, that he was justly chastised, he seems to use the word in this verse, for the punishments by which God stirs up men to repentance. These two words, צדק, tsedek, justice, in the first clause, and אמונה emunah truth, in the last, have here nearly the same signification. In the first clause, the prophet confesses in general that God so regulates his judgments, as to shut the mouths of the ungodly, should any of them complain of his cruelty or rigor; and that such equity shines forth in them, as to extort from us the confession that nothing is better for men than in this way to be called back to the consideration of themselves. He next exhibits an example of this in his own person. Even hypocrites sometimes yield God the praise of justice when he chastises others, and they never condemn his severity, so long as they themselves are spared. But it is the property of true piety to be less austere and rigid censors of the faults of others than of our own. The knowledge of which the prophet speaks, is a sure evidence of his having made a strict and earnest examination of himself; for, had he not well weighed his own guilt, he could not by assured experience have learned the righteousness of God in his afflictions. If it is considered preferable to take the word judgments in its usual acceptation, the meaning of the text will be: Lord, I know that thy law is holy and just, and severely as thou hast afflicted me, I still retain the persuasion of this truth; for even in my afflictions I discern the righteousness, which corresponds with the character of thy word.

76 I beseech thee let thy goodness be for my consolation. Although he has acknowledged that he had been justly humbled, yet he desires that his sorrow may be alleviated by some consolation. He implores God’s mercy, as what was essentially necessary to relieve and cure his miseries. He thus shows that nothing can remove sorrow from the faithful, until they feel that God is reconciled to them. In the Word in which God offers his mercy, there is to be found no small comfort for healing all the grief to which men are liable. But the Psalmist is now speaking of actual mercy, if I may use that term, when God by the very deed declares the favor which he has promised. Confiding in the Divine promise, he already cherished in his heart a joy, proceeding from the hope of receiving the communications of Divine grace. But as all our hope would end in mere disappointment, did not God at length appear as our deliverer, he requests the performance of that which God had promised him. Lord, as if he had said, since thou hast graciously promised to be ready to succor me, be pleased to make good thy word in effect. The observation which I have previously made ought to be remembered, That it is not in vain to remind God of his promise. It would be presumption for men to come into His presence, did he not, of his own mere good pleasure, open up the way for them. When the Psalmist says, to thy servant, he does not claim God’s mercy exclusively to himself, as if it had. been promised to him alone by some special oracle; but he applies to himself what God has promised to the whole Church, which it is the peculiar province of faith to do; for unless I believe that I am one of those to whom God addresses himself in his word, so that his promises belong to me in common with others, I will never have the confidence to call upon him.

77. Let thy companions come unto me. In this verse, the Psalmist repeats and confirms almost the same request as in the preceding verse, although in phraseology somewhat different. As he had just now said, that his sorrow could not be removed, nor his joy restored, in any other way than by God’s mercy being exercised towards him; so now he affirms that he cannot have without being reconciled to God. He thus distinguishes himself from worldly men, who are very little affected with a concern about having God reconciled to them; or, rather, who do not cease securely to enjoy themselves, although God is angry with them. He distinctly affirms, that, until he know that God is reconciled to him, he is a dead man even while living; but that, on the other hand, whenever God shall cause his mercy to shine upon him, he will be restored from death to life. By the way, he intimates that he was deprived for a time of the tokens of God’s fatherly favor; for it would have been needless for him to have wished that it might come to him, had it not been removed from him. As an argument for obtaining what he supplicates, he asserts that the law of God was his delight; nor could he otherwise hope that God would be merciful to him. Besides, no man truly feels what virtue is in the Divine favor, but he who, placing his chief happiness in that alone, is convinced that all who dissever themselves from God are miserable and accursed; a truth which the prophet had learned from the law.

78. Let the proud be put to shame. We have already often had occasion to remark, that, in the Hebrew language, the future tense is frequently used in the sense of the optative mood, as here, — They shall be put to shame, for, Let them be put to shame. Still it would not be unsuitable to explain the meaning thus’ As the proud have dealt mischievously with me, and molested me without a cause, the Lord will give them their reward. But as almost all interpreters are agreed that this is a prayer, in the translation of the verse I am unwilling to depart from the generally received explanation, especially as the language is expressly addressed to God himself. It is important to attend to the reason why the Psalmist hopes that God will be an enemy to his enemies; namely, because they wickedly and maliciously assaulted him. The word שקר, sheker, which I have rendered falsely, is by some translated, without a cause; but they seem only to hit upon the one half of the prophet’s meaning; for this word, in my opinion, is to be referred to the stratagems and artifices by which the wicked endeavored to destroy David. Whence we gather, that whenever we are wrongfully persecuted by wicked men, we are invited to have recourse directly to God for protection. At the same time, we are taught that we have no reason to be abashed at their insolence; for, whatever power they may arrogate to themselves, He will beat down their loftiness, and lay it low, to their shame; so that, being confounded, they will serve as an example, to teach others that nothing is more ridiculous than to sing the song of triumph before the victory is gained. The verb אשיח, asiach, in the second clause of the verse, may be rendered, I will speak of, as well as I will meditate upon; implying, that, when he had obtained the victory, he would proclaim the goodness of God, which he had experienced. To speak of God’s statutes, is equivalent to declaring out of the law, how faithfully he guards his saints, how securely he delivers them, and how righteously he avenges their wrongs.

79. Let such as fear thee turn unto me. In this verse, which is connected with the preceding, the Psalmist affirms, that the deliverance which he obtained would afford common instruction to all the godly. My condition, as if he had said, may, for a time, have disheartened the righteous, as well as increased the insolence of my enemies; but now, taking courage, they will turn their eyes to this joyful spectacle. Moreover, let us learn from the two marks, by which he distinguishes true believers, what is the nature of genuine godliness. He puts the fear, or the reverence of God, in the first, place; but he immediately joins to it the knowledge of Divine truth, to teach us that these two things are inseparably connected. The superstitious, indeed, exhibit a fear of God of a certain kind, but it is a mere show, which quickly vanishes. Besides, they weary themselves in their own inventions to no purpose; for God will take no account of any other services, but those which are performed in obedience to his commandments. True religion, then, and the worship of God, have their origin in faith — in the faith of what he has enjoined; so that no person can serve God aright, but he who has been taught in His school.

80. Let my heart be sound in thy statutes Having, a little before, desired to be endued with a sound understanding, he now prays, in a similar manner, for sincere affection of heart. The understanding and affections, as is well known, are the two principal faculties of the human soul, both of which he clearly shows to be depraved and perverse, when he requests that his understanding may be illuminated, and, at the same time, that his heart may be framed to the obedience of the law. This plainly refutes all that the Papists babble about free will. The prophet not only here prays that God would help him, because his will was weak; but he testifies, without qualification, that uprightness of heart is. the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are, moreover, taught by these words, in what the true keeping of the law consists. A great part of mankind, after having carelessly framed their life according to the Divine law, by outward obedience, think that they want nothing. But the Holy Spirit here declares that no service is acceptable to God, except that which proceeds from integrity of heart. As to the word, תמים, thamim, rendered sound, we have elsewhere said, that a sound heart is set in opposition to a double or deceitful heart. It is as if the prophet had said, that those who are without dissimulation, and who offer to God a pure heart, yield themselves truly to Him. When it is added, that I may not be put to shame, it is intimated, that such shall be the undoubted issue as to all the proud, who, disdaining the grace of God, lean upon their own strength; and as to all hypocrites, who, for a time, parade themselves in gay colors. The amount, then, is, that unless God govern us by his Spirit, and keep us in the performance of our duty, so that our hearts may be sound in his statutes, although our shame may be hidden for a time, yea, although all men should praise us, and hold us in admiration, yet we cannot avoid falling, at length, into dishonor and ignominy.

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