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Psalm 119:161-168

161. ש Princes have persecuted me without a cause; yet my heart hath beer, afraid at thy word 162. ש I have rejoiced at thy word as one who hath found great spoil. 163. ש I have hated and abhorred deceit; but I have loved thy law. 164. ש Seven times a day have I praised thee, because of thy righteous judgments. 3232     Literally, “Because of the judgments of thy righteousness.” 165. ש Great peace have them that love thy law, and there will be no stumbling-block for them. 3333     “They have not any offense, i.e. no occasion to bring them into sin, but such as, with God’s Spirit assisting them, they are enabled to overcome. The love of the law is a security to them from the enticements of wickedness, by which others are drawn aside from the path of rectitude, and are brought to ruin.” — Phillips. 166. ש Jehovah I have waited for thy salvation and have done thy commandments. 167. ש My soul hath kept thy testimonies, and I have loved them exceeding. 168. ש I have kept thy commandments and thy testimonies; for all my ways are before thee.

 

161 Princes have persecuted me without a cause. 3434     “David was persecuted by Saul and his associates ‘without a cause.’” — Warner on the Psalter. Here the Psalmist, informs us that sore and grievous as his temptation had been, he was restrained by the fear of God from desiring to attempt anything unworthy of the character of a godly man. We are prone to fall into despair when princes who are armed with power to overwhelm us are hostile to and molest us. The evil is also aggravated from the consideration that it is the very persons who ought to be as bucklers to defend us, who employ their strength in hurting us. Yea, when the afflicted are stricken by those in high places, they in a manner think that the hand of God is against them. There was also this peculiarity in the case of the Prophet, that he had to encounter the grandees of the chosen people — men whom God had placed in such honor-able stations, to the end they might be the pillars of the Church. Some give, more restricted exposition, which is, that David followed the exhortation of Christ in Matthew 10:28,

“Fear not them who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul, but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell;”

a sentiment which although it had not as yet been uttered by Christ’s mouth, ought nevertheless to have been fixed in the hearts of all the godly. The sense, then, in their opinion is, that the Prophet had not been turned aside from the fear of God by any of the threatening or terrors of his enemies. But his commendation of his own constancy is to be understood in a more extended sense than this. The exhortation of Isaiah is well known,

“Neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid; sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” (Isaiah 8:12,13)

The Prophet in that place shows in general what the weapons are, with which the faithful being armed will succeed in vanquishing all the assaults of the world — he shows that they will do so, provided they not only stand in awe of God, but also rest assured that he will always be the guardian of their welfare, so that they may cast all their cares upon him. Thus it will come to pass that, resting contented with his protection, they will not turn aside to practice whatever may be sinful to secure their safety. In like manner the Prophet, in the passage before us, affirms that although being oppressed by the wrongful violence of princes, he presented a sad spectacle, yet he did not succumb, but considered what was lawful for him to do, and did not attempt to rival their wicked practices, by repelling craft with craft and violence with violence. In this text, as is evident from the connection, to be afraid at God’s word, is to restrain one’s self and to attempt nothing which is unlawful. I have already said that the adverb חנם, hinnam, without a cause, is added for the sake of amplification; for the temptation was so much the harder from the fact, that the tyrants, without cause and merely to gratify their own wicked inclination, assaulted an innocent individual. Men of a good disposition and of a noble mind, it is well known, are more easily excited to anger when the object assaulted is one who has done wrong to nobody. It was therefore a signal proof of self-control for the Prophet to bridle himself by the word of God, that he might not vie with others in evil doing, or, overcome with temptation, go out of the place which had been assigned him in the social body. Let us then learn to remain peaceable, although princes tyrannically abuse the power which God has committed to them, lest by creating insurrection we break in upon the peace and order of society.

162. I have rejoiced at thy word as one who hath found great spoil No gain, it is well known, brings greater joy than that which conquerors acquire from the spoil of their enemies; for to the gain there is added the glory of triumph; and when profit comes on a sudden, the delight experienced is from that circumstance the greater. This is the reason why David compares the knowledge he had obtained of heavenly doctrine with spoils rather than with other riches; for by these words he intimates that his greatest joy was derived from the word of God, to which no gain however desirable could at all approach. From this was learn that he was contented with the word of God as a thing in which was all his delight, and in which he found solid felicity; which could not be, but, in the way of his first withdrawing his heart from all depraved desires. Nor is it wonderful to find David placing the whole sum of a happy life in the word of God, in which he well knew the treasure of eternal life to be included and offered to him by means of free adoption.

163. I have hated and abhorred deceit. In this verse he declares more distinctly what I have adverted to a little before, that he was cleansed from corrupt affections that he might bestow upon the law of God such honor and estimation as it deserved. Having elsewhere met with almost the same sentence, I shall but briefly touch upon the reason why the Prophet affirms that he hated deceit before he speaks of his love and devotedness to the law. As hypocrisy is in the hearts of all men by nature, and as we are naturally prone to vanity and deceitfulness, we ought diligently to labor to purge our hearts, that the love of the law may reign in them. Now if the beginning of a good life and the first point of righteousness is to hate and abhor deceit, it follows that nothing is more excellent than integrity; for unless that virtue hold the chief place, all the other virtues speedily disappear. Nor is abhorring superfluously added to hating, the design being to teach us that it is not enough to hate falsehood with a common hatred, but that God’s children must hate it with a deadly hatred. Now if the love of the law and the hatred of falsehood are inseparably conjoined, it is a plain inference that all who are not taught in the school of God are infected with deceit and hypocrisy.

164. Seven times a day have I praised thee. By the adverb seven times, the Prophet means that he was continually or very often engaged in celebrating the praises of God; just as it is said in Proverbs 24:16, “A just man falleth seven times,” when he often falls into divers temptations. 3535     Among many other texts of Scripture which might be quoted to show that the number seven is often used for many, or an indefinite number, we may refer only to Genesis 4:15 and Leviticus 24:18. Some of the Jewish Rabbies, however, affirm that David is here to be understood literally, observing, that the devout Hebrews were accustomed to praise God twice in the morning before reading the ten commandments, and once after; twice in the evening before reading the same portion of inspiration, and twice after; which makes up the number of seven times a day. The phrase the judgments of God being in many places taken for the punishments which God inflicts upon sinners, and also sometimes applied in general to the providence by which he governs the world, some understand the Prophet as praising God because he affords such manifest proofs of his justice both in punishing the wicked and in the whole government of the world. But I rather agree with others who refer the phrase to the divine law; not that I dislike the former interpretation, but because in this psalm the great topic upon which the Psalmist chiefly insists is the commendation of God’s law. The amount then is, that when David was assiduously occupied in meditating upon the law of God, he found it distinguished by so great perfection of righteousness and wisdom, that from time to time he burst forth into the exercise of praise and thanksgiving. This diligence in praising God shows that David not only spoke reverently and honourably of the divine law, but that he accounted it an inestimable boon conferred upon the human race. It was not simply admiration which constrained him to this commendation, but a principle of gratitude; for he saw that nothing more excellent could be bestowed upon men than their being renewed to a blessed and an endless life by the incorruptible seed of heavenly truth. Yet scarcely one in a hundred of those to whom God offers this treasure puts himself to the trouble of giving God thanks for it even in an ordinary manner. On the contrary, there reigns such vile ingratitude everywhere in the world, that some scornfully reject divine truth, and others despise or slight it, while others rail and gnash their teeth against it if they find anything in it which does not please them.

165. Great peace have they who love thy law. If we take the word peace for a prosperous or happy condition of life — a sense in which the Hebrews often employ it — the word rendered stumbling-block, to correspond with it, will be used for adversity; as if it had been said, that those who love God’s law shall continually prosper and retain their position, although the whole world should fall into ruins. But a different interpretation will be equally appropriate, namely, that they have great peace, because, being persuaded that both their persons and their life are acceptable to God, they calmly repose themselves on a good conscience. This tranquil state of conscience, this serenity of mind, is justly reckoned the chief point of a happy life, that is to say it is so, when it proceeds from God’s being reconciled to us, and from his fatherly favor shining in our hearts. The Prophet justly teaches that we attain this peace from the love of the law; for whoever would make it to depend upon anything else, will be from time to time trembling at every little blast. If this sense is adopted, the word stumbling-block, in the second clause, will signify all the troubles and disquietudes of mind with which all who lean not upon God’s word are miserably distressed and tormented, and with which they are driven about either by their own depraved passions, or by the caprice of other men. But in whatever way understand these two words, peace and stumbling-block, the design of the Prophet will remain the same, which is to show, that those who are not devoted to God are miserable; for although they may applaud themselves for a time, yet they will meet with many stumbling-blocks to drive them suddenly out of their course. From the term love, we gather that this peace is not acquired by a slavish observance of the law, but proceeds from faith; for the law has no sweetness to attract us to it, unless it exhibit to us God in the character of a father, and tranquilize our minds by the assurance of eternal salvation. So far from enjoying peace, all worldly men and despisers of God are justly punished by their own depravity and obdurate rebellion; for each of them is his own executioner, and the more fiercely they rage against the word of God, the sorer are they tormented, until they bring upon themselves utter destruction. The godly, it is true, are also tormented or distressed, but this inward consolation wipes away all their sorrow, or, raising them up, enables them to surmount all stumbling-blocks, or so relieves them, that they faint not.

166 O Jehovah! I have waited for thy salvation. It is not without cause that the Prophet often repeats this sentence, which is in all men’s mouths, there being nothing easier than to ascribe to God the praise and office of saving, while yet there is hardly to be met with in the world a single example of steadfast hope, when men come to wrestle with temptations for any length of time. From the order of the words we learn, that if a man would keep himself in the fear of God, and the love of the law, it is necessary for him, above all things, 3636     “Primum,” Lat — “Devant toutes choses,” Fr. to seek for salvation in God. If faith in God’s grace be removed from our minds, or patience shaken off, we will be carried away hither and thither, and will cease any longer to cultivate godliness. The chief virtue of the faithful, therefore, is a patient endurance of the cross and mortification by which they calmly submit themselves to God; for so long as no adversity happens to hypocrites, they seem, also to be well-affectioned to the work of serving him. There are also other reasons why it behoves us to keep our minds intent upon the salvation of God, if we desire to regulate our life aright; for if the, allurements of the world hold us in their snares, we will immediately become discouraged. The reason, as we plainly see, why the hearts of the great majority fail, is because it is difficult to believe assuredly that salvation is to be hoped for only from the grace of God. That we may therefore persevere in serving God, it is indispensable that faith shine on the future before us, and next, that patience accompany us, to nourish within us the love of righteousness. For, as we have said, our alacrity in persevering proceeds from this, that with a patient spirit we suffer our salvation to lie hidden in the bosom of God, and that we doubt not of his at length, proving a faithful rewarder of all such as seek him, although he may withdraw his favor from the eye of sense. In the subsequent verse the Psalmist confirms this doctrine by other words, saying, that he kept God’s testimonies with his soul By the word soul he expresses still more forcibly than before, that he had the doctrine of the law enclosed within the deepest recesses of his heart. The cause of this peculiarly diligent keeping of the law, was the singular love which he had to it, as he states in the concluding clause of the verse. He who by constraint and in a slavish manner obeys the law, is so far from receiving it into the secret habitation of his heart to keep it there, that he would have it removed far away from him.

168. I have kept thy commandments and thy testimonies. What the Psalmist had expressed more strongly, he now repeats more simply, adding there to reason. He abbreviates the statement as made in the preceding verse only by here omitting the word soul, which he there uses, whilst to commandments he joins testimonies, in order the more distinctly to show that he does not speak exclusively of the rule of an upright and holy life, but also comprehends the whole covenant of salvation. And, assuredly, the doctrine of the law could not be so sweet and attractive from its commanding what is right, did it not at the same time exhibit the free favor of God. The reason which the Prophet assigns for his keeping God’s commandments and testimonies — for all my ways are before thee 3737     “All my ways are before thee” The meaning of this expression may be gathered from other scriptural phrases: such as ‘walking before God;’ or ‘in his sight;’ which merely signify to live holy and righteously, so as to be acceptable in his sight. God is omniscient, and, consequently, ‘all the ways’ or actions of men are ‘before him,’ or open to his knowledge and sight.” — Warner. — is to this effect, That the truth, which he well knew, that nothing is hidden from God, served as a bridle to keep him devoted to the cultivation of godliness; for if we live not as under the omniscient inspection of God, the fickle lustfulness of the flesh quickly carries us away now one way and now another. The meaning, also, may be this — that he made God the arbiter and judge of his life; for in Scripture language those are said to walk before God, who refer all their actions to him, and, as it were, withdrawing themselves from the sight of men, present themselves at his judgment-seat. In this way he gives us to understand that he had endeavored not only to be free from all fault and blame before men, but also to offer to God a sound and sincere heart. Whichever of these senses is adopted, he testifies that it is only when we consider that we have to deal with God, who searcheth the heart, and from whose eyes nothing is hidden, that we will observe his law aright. This concluding clause may also be a form of protestation; as if the Prophet had said, Lord, thou art the best witness of the fidelity with which I have kept thy law, for nothing is hidden from thee. But he seems rather to have intended to intimate that the principle of his holy living, was his having consecrated his life to God, and having kept his thoughts fixed on the diverse presence.


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