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Psalm 119:113-120

ס 113. I have hated crooked thoughts, and loved thy law. ס 114. Thou art my hiding-place and my shield: I have trusted in thy word. ס 115. Depart from me, ye wicked! and I will keep the commandments of my God. ס 116. Sustain me by thy word, and I shall live: and make me not ashamed of my expectation. ס 117. Establish me, and I shall be safe: and I will consider thy statutes continually. ס 118. Thou hast trodden under foot all those who wander from thy statutes; for their deceit is falsehood. ס 119. Thou hast made all the wicked of the earth to cease as dross; therefore I have loved thy testimonies. ס 120. My flesh trembled for fear of thee, and I was afraid of thy judgments.

 

113. I have hated crooked thoughts. Those who are of opinion that the word סעפום seaphim, the first in the verse, and which is rendered crooked thoughts, is an appellate noun, translate it, those who think evil; 436436     In the Chaldee, it is “vain thinkers;” and thus the meaning would be, “I hate men that think evil, that devise wicked devices, or that have false and evil opinions, opposite to God’s law, or tending to seduce men from it.” but it is more correct to understand it of the thoughts themselves, 437437     It signifies thoughts in Job 4:14, and 20:2; and opinions in 1 Kings 18:21: and these may be either good or evil, their character being determined by the context of the passage in which the word occurs. and this interpretation is very generally adopted. The noun סעף, saeph, properly signifies a branch, but it is applied metaphorically to the thoughts, which, growing out of the heart, as branches from the trunk of a tree, spread themselves in every direction. As there is no doubt that in this passage the term is taken in a bad sense, I have added the epithet, crooked, which the etymology of the word requires. 438438     The sense of the text also requires that the word for thoughts should here be taken in a bad sense, for the Psalmist affirms that he hates them, and sets God’s law in opposition to them. Various epithets have been supplied to describe the character of these thoughts, such as “crooked,” by Calvin, “vain,” by our English version, and “high minded,” by Luther. Ainsworth supplies wavering, observing, that the original term denotes the top branches of trees, which are figuratively applied to the thoughts or opinions of the mind, to denote that they are wavering and uncertain, as 1 Kings 18:21; or to persons distracted with their own cogitations. Poole remarks, agreeably to Calvin’s interpretation, that the thoughts, or opinions, or devices of men differing from, or opposite to God’s law, may be intended, since, in the next clause, God’s law is opposed to them, and as some, both Jewish and Christian, expositors understand the Hebrew word. As the branches of a tree shoot out transversely, entangled and intertwined, so the thoughts of the human mind are, in like manner, confusedly mingled together, turning and twisting about in all directions. Some Jewish interpreters understand it of the laws of the heathen, which, they say, were cut off from the law of God, as branches from a tree; but although this is ingenious, it has no solidity. I therefore keep by the more simple explanation, That the crooked inventions of the human heart, and whatever the wicked devise, according to their own perverse understandings, are set in opposition to the law of God, which alone is right. And, assuredly, whoever would truly embrace the law of God, must, necessarily, as his first business, divest himself of all unhallowed and sinful thoughts, or rather go out of his own nature. Such is the meaning, unless, perhaps, preferring another metaphor, we understand סעפום, seaphim, to signify high thoughts, since the verb סעף, saaph, is taken for to lift up. Now we know that no sacrifice is more acceptable to God than obedience, when we entertain low thoughts of ourselves; and thus our docility begins with humility. But as this exposition may seem also far-fetched, I pass from it. Let what I have: said suffice us, That since God acknowledges as the disciples of his law those only who are well purified from all contrary imaginations, which corrupt our understanding, the prophet here protests that he is an enemy to all crooked thoughts, which are wont to draw men hither and thither.

114. Thou art my hiding place and my shield. The meaning is, that the prophet, persuaded that the only way in which he could be safe, was by lying hid under the wings of God, confided in his promises, and, therefore, feared nothing. And, assuredly, the first point is, that the faithful should hold it as a settled principle, that amidst the many dangers to which they are exposed, the preservation of their life is entirely owing to the protection of God; in order that they may be excited to flee to him, and leaning upon his word, may confidently wait for the deliverance which he has promised. This confidence, That God is our refuge and our shield, is, no doubt, derived from the word; but we must remember that there is here a mutual relation — that, when we have learned from the word of God that we have in him a safe hiding-place, this truth is to be cherished and confirmed in our hearts, under a consciousness of our absolute need of the divine protection. Besides, although his power ought abundantly to suffice in inspiring us with the hope of salvation, yet we should always set the word before us, that our faith may not fail when his aid is slow in coming.

115. Depart from me, ye wicked! Some explain this verse as if David declared that he would devote himself with more alacrity and greater earnestness to the keeping of the law, when the wicked should have desisted from assaulting him. And, unquestionably, when we feel that God has delivered us, we are more than stupid if this experience does not stir up within us an earnest desire to serve him. If godliness does not increase in us in proportion to the sense and experience we have of God’s grace, we betray base ingratitude. This, then, is a true and useful doctrine; but the prophet meant to convey a different sentiment in this place. As he saw how great a hindrance the ungodly are to us, he banishes them to a distance from him; or rather, he testifies that he will beware of entangling himself in their society. Nor has he said this so much for his own sake as to teach us by his example, that if we would hold on in the way of the Lord without stumbling, we must endeavor, above all things, to keep at the greatest possible distance from worldly and wicked men, not in regard to distance of place, but in respect of intercourse and conversation. Provided we contract an intimate acquaintance with them, it is scarcely possible for us to avoid being speedily corrupted by the contagion of their example. The dangerous influence of fellowship with wicked men is but too evident from observation; and to this it is owing, that few continue in their integrity to the close of life, the world being fraught with corruption’s. From the extreme infirmity of our nature, it is the easiest thing in the world to catch infection, and to contract pollution even from the slightest touch. The prophet, then, with good reason, bids the wicked depart from him, that he may advance in the fear of God without obstruction. Whoever entangles himself in their companionship will, in process of time, proceed the length of abandoning himself to a contempt, of God, and of leading a dissolute life. With this statement agrees the admonition of Paul, in 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” It was, indeed, beyond the prophet’s power to chase the wicked to a distance from him; but by these words he intimates, that from henceforth he will have no intercourse with them. He emphatically designates God as his God, to testify that he makes more account of him alone than of all mankind. Finding extreme wickedness universally prevailing on the earth, he separated himself from men, that he might join himself wholly to God. At the present day, that bad examples may not carry us away to evil, it greatly concerns us to put God on our side, and to abide constantly in him, because he is ours.

116. Sustain me by thy word, and I shall live. Many read, According to thy word, so that the letter ב, beth, which signifies in, is taken for the letter כ, caph, which signifies as; and thus the sense would be, Sustain me according to the promise which thou hast made to me, or, as thou hast promised to me. And, undoubtedly, whenever God stretches out his hand to us to raise us up when we are fallen, or supports us with his hand, he fulfills his promises. The prophet, however, seems to pray, that constancy of faith may be given him, to enable him to continue steadfast in the divine word. We are said to fall from God’s word when we fall from the faith of it; and in like manner, so long as we repose upon the truth and certainty of it, he is our sustainer. But, as the prophet well knew that there is not strength in man adequate to this, he asks from God ability to persevere as the singular gift of the Holy Spirit. It follows, then, that true stability is to be found no where else but in the word of God; and that no man can steadfastly lean upon it but he who is strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit. We must therefore always beseech God, who alone is the author and finisher of faith, to maintain in us this grace. Farther, when the Psalmist places life in faith, he teaches, that all that men promise themselves without the word is mere falsehood. It is therefore the Lord alone who quickens us by his word, even as it is said in Habakkuk, (Habakkuk 2:4,) “The just shall live by faith.” Both passages have the same meaning. After Habakkuk has derided the foolish confidence of the flesh, with which men are generally inflated, and as manifested in their raising themselves on high that they may fall with the greater violence, he shows, that the faithful alone, whom the word of God sustains, stand upon safe and sure ground.

If the first interpretation is adopted, the second clause, make me not ashamed of my expectation, will be added by way of exposition; for these two things — the prayer that the prophet maybe preserved by God’s grace according to his word, and the prayer that he may reap the fruit of his hope — would amount to nearly the same thing. Yet, after having beseeched God to grant him constancy to persevere, he seems now to proceed farther, praying that God would, in very deed, show the thing which he had promised. Every man’s own infirmity bears witness to the many doubts which intrude into our minds, when, after long endurance, the issue is not answerable to our expectation; for God, in that case:. seems to disappoint us.

To the same effect is the next verse, except that no express mention is made of the word; and safety is put for life. The prophet means to say, that whenever God withdrew his word, it would be all over with his safety; but that, if he were established by the Divine power, there was nothing of which he would have reason to be afraid. The verb שעה shaah, which we have translated I will consider, is rendered by many, I will delight, and this sense is not unsuitable; for although God may give a very desirable taste of his goodness in his bare word, yet the savor of it is not a little increased when to the word the effect is added, provided we do not perversely separate God’s benefits from his promises. It is the true wisdom of faith to consider all his benefits as the result or fruit of his promises, of which, if we make no account, the enjoyment of all his good things will be of little advantage to us, or rather will often prove hurtful and deadly. Yet it appears to me preferable to render the verb by consider; for the more experience any man has of God’s help, the more ought he to awaken himself to consider heavenly doctrine. The Psalmist adds, that he will continue to persevere in this meditation during the whole of his life.

118. Thou hast trodden under foot all those who wander from thy statutes. By treading under foot he means, that God overthrows all the despisers of his law, and casts them down from that loftiness which they assume to themselves. The phrase is directed against the foolish, or rather frantic, confidence with which the wicked are inflated, when they recklessly deride the judgments of God; and, what is more, scruple not to magnify themselves against him, as if they were not subject to his power. The last clause is to be particularly noticed: for their deceit is falsehood 439439     Dimock thinks that, by this expression, the Psalmist; probably alludes to the Lex Talionis amongst the Jews, and that the Apostle might refer to this passage in 2 Thessalonians 2:11; where he says, “that God should send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.” By these words the prophet teaches, that the wicked gain nothing by their wiles, but that they are rather entangled in them, or at length discover that they were mere sleight of hand. Those ignorantly mar the sense who interpose the copula and, as if it had been said, that deceit and falsehood were in them The word רמוה, remyah, signifies a subtle and crafty device. Interpreters, indeed, often translate it thought; but this term does not sufficiently express the propriety and force of the Hebrew word. The prophet means, that, however well pleased the wicked are with their own cunning, they yet do nothing else than deceive themselves with falsehood. And it was needful to add this clause; for we see how the great bulk of mankind are fatally intoxicated with their own vain imaginations, and how difficult it is to believe what is here asserted, — that the more shrewd they are in their own estimation, the more do they deceive themselves.

119. Thou hast made all the wicked of the earth to cease as dross. The meaning of this verse is similar to that of the preceding. By the similitude employed, there is described a sudden and an unexpected change, when their imaginative glory and happiness become dissipated in smoke. It is to be observed, that the vengeance of God against the wicked is not all at once manifested, so that they completely perish, or are exterminated from the earth; but as God, in rooting them out one after another, shows himself to be the judge of the world, and that he is purging the earth of them, it is not wonderful to find the prophet speaking of their destruction in this manner; for the Hebrew verbs often denote a continued act. As God, then, executes his judgments by little and little, and often suspends punishment until he see that the wicked abuse his long-suffering; it becomes us, on our part, to continue patiently waiting until, as a heathen writer observes, he compensate the delay of the punishment, by its severity when inflicted. It is abundantly evident, that the particle of similitude, as, is to be supplied before the word dross 440440     “Before the noun סגים, rendered dross, the particle כ, of similitude, is understood, so that the Psalmist says, ‘Thou hast entirely removed (made to cease) all the wicked of the earth as dross,’ which is removed from metals by fusion, or from corn by winnowing. The society of men is as a mass of metal in which the wicked are as rust and dross. The judgments of God, which are searching, will cause a separation of the dross from the metal, and thus He will destroy the one and preserve the other.” — Phillips Nor do I reject the opinion of those who assert, that the wicked are compared to dross, because, so long as they are mingled among the faithful as dregs, they infect and contaminate them; but when they are removed as scum, the purity of the godly shines forth with improved lustre. In the second place, the prophet adds, that the judgments of God were not without fruit in him, since they led him to love the doctrine of the law the more. Those who are not induced to commit themselves to the protection of God, whenever, by lifting up his hand, he shows that the world is governed by his power, must certainly be very perverse; but when, of his own good pleasure, he offers himself to us by his word, those who do not make haste to embrace so great a boon are stupid indeed. On the other hand, when he connives for a long time at the wickedness of men, devout affection, which should ravish us with the love of God’s word, languishes.

120. My flesh hath trembled for fear of thee. 441441     The verb סמר, samar, rendered hath trembled, denotes being seized with horror, so that the hair stands on end. It occurs in Piel in Job 4:15. This state of horror was produced on the mind of the Psalmist by a contemplation of the divine judgments executed on the wicked, who are rejected like dross; and he was thus brought to fear God.
    
At first sight the prophet seems to contradict himself. He had just now said, that, by God’s severity, he was gently drawn to love his testimonies; now he declares, that he was seized with terror. But although these two effects differ widely from each other, yet, if we consider by what kind of discipline God forms us to reverence his law, we will perceive that they entirely harmonize. We require to be subdued by fear that we may desire and seek after the favor of God. Since fear, then, is the beginning of love, the prophet testifies, that he was awakened by a heart-felt fear of God to look well to himself. Nor is the mortification of the flesh so easy a matter, as that every one should consent to enter upon it, without the constraint of violent means; and, therefore, it is not wonderful if God struck his servant with terror, that, in this way, he might bend his mind to a holy fear of him. It is an evidence of no common wisdom to tremble before God when he executes his judgments, of which the majority of mankind take no notice. We are then taught by these words of the prophet, that we ought to consider attentively the judgments of God, that they may not only gently instruct us, but that they may also strike us with such terror as will lead us to true repentance.


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