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Psalm 119:89-96

ל 89. Thy word, O Jehovah! endureth for ever in heaven. ל 90. Thy truth is from generation to generation: thou hast, established the earth, and it abideth. ל 91. By thy judgments they continue to this day; for all are thy servants. ל 92. Had not thy law been my delight, I had then perished in my affliction. ל 93. I will never forget thy statutes, for thou hast quickened me in them. ל 94. I am thine, save me; for I have sought thy statutes. ל 95. The wicked wait for me to destroy me: but I consider thy testimonies. ל 96. In all perfection I have see, the end: thy commandment is exceeding broad.

 

89 Thy word, O Jehovah I endure for ever. Many explain this verse as if David adduced the stability of the heavens as a proof of God’s truth. According to them the meaning is, that God is proved to be true because the heavens continually remain in the same state. 429429     This is the explanation given by Walford. His translation is —
   “O Jehovah! for ever
Is thy word established in the heavens.”

   Upon which he observes: “The design of these words is by no means obvious, and the interpreters vary greatly in their explications. I have not met with any explanation that is altogether satisfactory, and shall therefore give what appears to me to be the true meaning. The design, in general, of the Psalmist is, to celebrate the immutability of the word of God: whatever He speaks is sure. To illustrate this position, he refers to the creation of the heavens and of the earth; they were alike formed by the word of God, — ‘He spake, and it was done.’ By virtue of that word these vast productions abide through all ages, so that the word of God is established and displayed in heaven and upon earth. As the same word uttered all the precepts and institutions of the law, and all the promises of the covenant of mercy, the unchangeableness of these precepts and promises is verified and manifested by the perpetual conservation of all these instances of physical power and energy.”
Others offer a still more forced interpretation, That God’s truth is more sure than the state of the heavens. But it appears to me that the prophet intended to convey a very different idea. As we see nothing constant or of long continuance upon earth, he elevates our minds to heaven, that they may fix their anchor there. David, no doubt, might have said, as he has done in many other places, that the whole order of the world bears testimony to the steadfastness of God’s word — that word which is most true. But as there is reason to fear that the minds of the godly would hang in uncertainty if they rested the proof of God’s truth upon the state of the world, in which such manifold disorders prevail; by placing God’s truth in the heavens, he allots to it a habitation subject to no changes. That no person then may estimate God’s word from the various vicissitudes which meet his eye in this world, heaven is tacitly set in opposition to the earth. Our salvation, as if it had been said, being shut up in God’s word, is not subject to change, as all earthly things are, but is anchored in a safe and peaceful haven. The same truth the Prophet Isaiah teaches in somewhat different words:

“All flesh is grass, and all the godliness thereof is as the flower of the field,” (Isaiah 40:6.)

He means, according to the Apostle Peter’s exposition, (1 Peter 1:24) that the certainty of salvation is to be sought in the word, and, therefor that they do wrong who settle their minds upon the world; for the steadfastness of God’s word far transcends the stability of the world.

90. Thy truth is from generation to generation In this verse the Psalmist repeats and confirms the same sentiment. He expressly teaches, that although the faithful live for a short time as strangers upon earth, and soon pass away, yet their life is not perishable, since they are begotten again of an incorruptible seed. He, however, proceeds still farther. He had before enjoined us to pierce by faith into heaven, because we will find nothing in the world on which we can assuredly rest; and now he again teaches us, by experience, that though the world is subject to revolutions, yet in it bright and signal testimonies to the truth of God shine forth, so that the steadfastness of his word is not exclusively confined to heaven, but comes down even to us who dwell upon the earth. For this reason, it is added, that the earth continues steadfast, even as it was established by God at the beginning. Lord, as if it had been said, even in the earth we see thy truth reflected as it were in a mirror; for though it is suspended in the midst of the sea, yet it continues to remain in the same state. These two things, then, are quite consistent; first, that the steadfastness of God’s word is not to be judged of according to the condition of the world, which is always fluctuating, and fades away as a shadow; and, secondly, that yet men are ungrateful if they do not acknowledge the constancy which in many respects marks the frame. work of the world; for the earth, which otherwise could not occupy the position it does for a single moment, abides notwithstanding steadfast, because God’s word is the foundation on which it rests. Farther, no person has any ground for objecting, that it is a hard thing to go beyond this world in quest of the evidences of God’s truth, since, in that case, it would be too remote from the apprehension of men. The prophet meets the objection by affirming, that although it dwells in heaven, yet we may see at our very feet conspicuous proofs of it, which may gradually advance us to as perfect knowledge of it as our limited capacity will permit. Thus the prophet, on the one hand, exhorts us to rise above the whole world by faith, so that the word of God may be found by experience to be adequate, as it really is adequate, to sustain our faith; and, on the other hand, he warns us that we have no excuse, if, by the very sight of the earth, we do not discover the truth of God, since legible traces of it are to be found at our feet. In the first clause, men are called back from the vanity of their own understanding; and, in the other; their weakness is relieved, that they may have a foretaste upon earth of what is to be found more fully in heaven.

91. By thy judgments they continue to this day. The word, היום, hayom, which, following other interpreters, I have translated to this days might not improperly rendered daily, or every day. In that case, however, the sense would be substantially the same; for the prophet means, that the whole order of nature depends solely upon the commandment or decree of God. In using the term judgments, he makes an allusion to the law, intimating, that the same regard to rectitude which is exhibited in the law is brightly displayed in every part; of God’s procedure. From this it follows, that men are very perverse, when, by their unbelief, they do what they can to shake and impair the faithfulness of God, upon which all creatures repose; and, moreover, when by their rebellion they impeach his righteousness, and deny the authority of his commands, upon which the stability of the whole world depends. It is a harsh manner of expression to say, that all the elements are God’s servants; but it expresses more than if it had been said, that all things are ready to yield obedience to him. How can we account for it, that the air, which is so thin, does not consume itself by blowing incessantly? How can we account for it, that the waters do not waste away by flowing, but on the principle that these elements obey the secret command of God? By faith, it is true, we perceive that the continued existence of the world is owing to the fiat of God; but all who have the smallest pretensions to understanding are led to the same conclusion, from the manifest and undoubted proofs of this truth, which every where meet their eye. Let it then be thoroughly impressed upon our minds, that all things are so governed and maintained by the secret operation of God, as that their continuing in the same state is owing to their obeying his commandment or word. We must always remember the point which the prophet aims at; which is, that God’s faithfulness, which shines forth in his external works, may gradually conduct us higher, until we attain such a persuasion of the truth of heavenly doctrine as is entirely free from doubt.

92. Had not thy law been my delight The prophet continues to prosecute almost the same theme; affirming, that he would have been undone, had he not in his calamities sought consolation from the law of God. The adverb, אז az, signifies then; but as it is sometimes used for a long time, it is equivalent here to long ago; unless some may prefer to consider it as a significant and emphatic pointing to the thing, as if he were still in the state which he describes. He confirms from his own experience what he had previously said, to make it manifest that he did not speak of things with which he was unacquainted, but that he asserts what he had really experienced, — namely, that there is no other solace, and no other remedy for adversity, but our reposing upon the word of God, and our embracing the grace and the assurance of our salvation which are offered in it. He here unquestionably commends the very same word, which he had but now said dwelt in heaven. Though it resound on earth, enter into our ears, and settle in our hearts, yet it still retains its celestial nature; for it descends to us in such a manner, as that it is not subject to the changes of the world. The prophet declares that he was grievously oppressed by a weight of afflictions enough to overwhelm him; but that the consolation which he derived from the Divine Law in such desperate circumstances, was as life to him.

93. I will never forget thy statutes. This verse contains a thanksgiving. As the law of the Lord had preserved him, he engages that he will never forget it. Yet he, at the same time, admonishes himself and others how necessary it is to cherish in the heart the remembrance of the Divine Law; for though we have found from experience its life-giving power, yet we easily allow it to pass from our memories, and on this account God afterwards justly punishes us, by leaving us for a long time to languish in our sadness.

94. I am thine, save me. In the first place, he takes encouragement to pray from the consideration, that he is one of God’s own stamp and coinage, as we speak. In the second place, he proves that he is God’s from the fact of his keeping his commandments. This ought not, however, to be understood as if he boasted of any merit which he possessed; as, in dealing with men, it is customary to adduce something meritorious which we have done as an argument for obtaining what we desire: — I have always loved and esteemed you, I have always studied to promote your honor and advantage; my service has always been ready at your command. But David rather brings forward the unmerited grace of God, and that alone; for no man, by any efforts of his own, acquires the high honor of being under the protection of God — an honor which proceeds solely from his free adoption. The blessing which God had conferred upon him is therefore here adduced as an argument why he should not forsake the work which he had commenced. When he affirms, that he was earnestly intent upon the Divine commandments, that also depended upon the Divine calling; for he did not begin to apply his mind to God’s commandments before he was called and received into his household. As he desires, in this verse, that the Lord would save him, so, in the next verse, he expresses the need he had of being saved, saying, that the wicked sought for him to destroy him; by which he, at the same time, declares the constancy of his godliness, inasmuch as he then set his mind upon the law of God — a point worthy of special notice. Those who, at other times, would the forward and willing to follow God, know not to what side to turn themselves when they are assailed by the wicked, and, in that case, are very prone to follow unhallowed counsel. It is therefore a great virtue to do God the honor of resting contented with his promises alone, when the wicked conspire for our destruction, and when, to all human appearance, our life is in jeopardy. To consider God’s testimonies is, in this place, equivalent to applying our minds to the word of God, which sustains us against all assaults, effectually allays all fears, and restrains us from following any perverse counsels.

96. In all perfection, I have seen the end. 430430     “The literal translation is, to the whole of perfection I perceive a limit. The Hebrew word, however, which is rendered by perfection, occurs only in this place. It seems clearly to have for its root a verb signifying to complete, to finish: the meaning is, ‘to every created thing, however perfect, I see a boundary;’ that is, it is limited as to its capability, as well as to its duration.” — Cresswell. The prophet again, using other words, commends the same truth which he had taught in the first verse of this part — that the word of God is not subject to change, because it is elevated far above the perishable elements of this world. He here asserts, that there is nothing under heaven so perfect and stable, or so complete, in all respects, as not to have an end; and that the Divine word alone possesses such amplitude as to surpass all bounds and limits. Since the verb כלה kalah, signifies to consume and finish, as well as to make perfect, some take the noun תכלה tichelah, for measure or end But it is necessary to translate it perfection, that the comparison may be the more apparent, and the better to amplify the faithfulness of the Divine word; the idea which the prophet intended to convey being, that, after he had considered all things, especially those which are distinguished by the greatest perfection, he found that they were nothing when compared with God’s word, inasmuch as all other things will soon come to an end, whereas the word of God stands ever firm in its own eternity. 431431     “All human things, however full, perfect, and admirable, are necessarily deficient and mutable; but the law of God, like the nature of him from whom it proceeds, endureth for ever, and is in all respects complete and unalterable. We are to understand by the law here, the whole revealed will of God, comprehensive of promise as well as precept.” — Walford. Whence it follows, that we have no ground for apprehending that it will forsake us in the midst of our course.. It is termed broad, to denote that, though a man may mount above the heavens, or descend into the lowest depths, or traverse the whole space from the right to the left hand, yet he will not reach farther than the truth of God conducts us. It remains that our minds should embrace this vast extent; and such will be the case when they shall have ceased to enclose and shut themselves up within the narrow limits of this world.


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