World Wide Study Bible
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17. Psalm 17
1Hear the right, O Jehovah, attend unto my cry;
Give ear unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips.
2Let my sentence come forth from thy presence;
Let thine eyes look upon equity.
3Thou hast proved my heart; thou hast visited me in the night;
Thou hast tried me, and findest nothing;
I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress.
4As for the works of men, by the word of thy lips
I have kept me from the ways of the violent.
5My steps have held fast to thy paths,
My feet have not slipped.
6I have called upon thee, for thou wilt answer me, O God:
Incline thine ear unto me, and hear my speech.
7Show thy marvellous lovingkindness,
O thou that savest by thy right hand them that take refuge in thee
From those that rise up against them.
8Keep me as the apple of the eye;
Hide me under the shadow of thy wings,
9From the wicked that oppress me,
My deadly enemies, that compass me about.
10They are inclosed in their own fat:
With their mouth they speak proudly.
11They have now compassed us in our steps;
They set their eyes to cast us down to the earth.
12He is like a lion that is greedy of his prey,
And as it were a young lion lurking in secret places.
13Arise, O Jehovah,
Confront him, cast him down:
Deliver my soul from the wicked by thy sword;
14From men by thy hand, O Jehovah,
From men of the world, whose portion is in this life,
And whose belly thou fillest with thy treasure:
They are satisfied with children,
And leave the rest of their substance to their babes.
15As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness;
I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with beholding thy form.
1. Hear my righteousness, O Jehovah. The Psalmist begins the psalm by setting forth the goodness of his cause. He does this because God has promised that he will not suffer the innocent to be oppressed, but will always, at length, succor them. Some explain the word righteousness as denoting righteous prayer, an interpretation which appears to me unsatisfactory. The meaning rather is, that David, confiding in his own integrity, interposes God as a Judge between himself and his enemies, to cognosce or determine in his cause. We have already seen, in a preceding psalm, that when we have to deal with wicked men, we may warrantably protest our innocence before God. As, however, it would not be enough for the faithful to have the approving testimony of a good conscience, David adds to his protestation earnest prayer. Even irreligious persons may often be able justly to boast of having a good cause; but as they do not acknowledge that the world is governed by the providence of God, they content themselves with enjoying the approbation of their own conscience, as they speak, and, gnawing the bit, bear the injuries which are done to them rather obstinately than steadfastly, seeing they do not seek for any consolation in faith and prayer. But the faithful not only depend upon the goodness of their cause, they also commit it to God that he may defend and maintain it; and whenever any adversity befalls them, they betake themselves to him for help. This, therefore, is the meaning of the passage; it is a prayer that God, who knew David to have done justly, and to have performed his duty without giving occasion to any to blame him, 339339 “Que David se soit portd justement et fait son devoir sans donner a aucun occasion de le blasmer.” — Fr. and, therefore, to be unrighteously molested by his enemies, would graciously look upon him; and that he would do this especially, since, confiding in his aid, he entertained good hope, and, at the same time, prays to him with a sincere heart. By the words cry and prayer he means the same thing; but the word cry, and the repetition of what it denotes, by a different expression, serve to show his vehement, his intense earnestness of soul. Farther, as hypocrites talk loftily in commendation of themselves, and to show to others a token of the great confidence which they have in God, give utterance to loud cries, David protests concerning himself that he does not speak deceitfully; in other words, that he does not make use of his crying and prayer as a pretext for covering his sins, but comes into the presence of God with sincerity of heart. By this form of prayer the Holy Spirit teaches us, that we ought diligently to endeavor to live an upright and innocent life, so that, if there are any who give us trouble, we may be able to boast that we are blamed and persecuted wrongfully. 340340 “Que nous sommes blasmez et persecutez a tort.” — Fr. Again, whenever the wicked assault us, the same Spirit calls upon us to engage in prayer; and if any man, trusting to the testimony of a good conscience which he enjoys, neglects the exercise of prayer, he defrauds God of the honor which belongs to him, in not referring his cause to him, and in not leaving him to judge and determine in it. Let us learn, also, that when we present ourselves before God in prayer, it is not to be done with the ornaments of an artificial eloquence, for the finest rhetoric and the best grace which we can have before him consists in pure simplicity.
2. From the presence of thy countenance. Literally it is, from before thy face, or, before thy face. By these words David intimates that if God does not rise up as the vindicator of his cause, he will be overwhelmed with calumnies though innocent, and will be looked upon as a guilty and condemned person. The cognisance which God will take of his cause is tacitly set in opposition to the dark inventions of falsehood which were spread against him. 341341 “Car la cognoissance que Dieu prendra de sa cause est tacitement mise in l’opposite des tenebres des mensonges qu’on semoit contre luy.” — Fr. His language is as if he had said, I do not ask for any other judge but God, nor do I shrink from standing before his judgment-seat, 342342 “Et qu’il ne refuse point de respondre derant le siege judicial d’iceluy.” — Fr. “Nor do I refuse to answer before his judgment-seat.” since I bring with me both a pure heart and a good cause. What he immediately adds with respect to God’s looking upon his uprightness is of similar import. He does not mean to say that God is blind, but only beseeches him actually to show that he does not connive at the wickedness of men, and that it is not to him a matter of indifference when he beholds those who have not the means of defending themselves 343343 “Qui n’ont pas moyen de se defendre.” — Fr. receiving evil treatment undeservedly. Some take the word judgment in too restricted a sense for the right to the kingdom which was promised to David, as if he petitioned to be placed on the royal throne by the power of God, inasmuch as he had been chosen by him to be king, and had also, in his name and by his authority, been anointed to this office by the hand of Samuel. The meaning which I attach to David’s language is simply this, that being oppressed with many and varied wrongs, he commits himself to the protection and defense of God.
3. Thou hast proved my heart. Some are of opinion that in the three first verbs the past tense is put for the future. Others more correctly and more clearly resolve the words thus: If thou provest my heart, and visitest it by night, and examinest it thoroughly, there will not be found any deceit therein. But without making any change upon the words, they may be suitably enough explained in this way: Thou, Lord, who understandest all the secret affections and thoughts of my heart, even as it is thy peculiar prerogative to try men, knowest very well that I am not a double man, and do not cherish any deceit within. What David intended to express is certainly very evident. As he was unjustly and falsely charged with crime, and could obtain neither justice nor humanity at the hands of men, he appeals to God, requesting he would become judge in the matter. 346346 “Le requerant d’en vouloir estre le juge.” — Fr. But not to do this rashly, he subjects himself to an impartial examination, seeing God, whose prerogative it is to search the secret recesses of the heart, cannot be deceived by the external appearance. The time when he declares God to have visited him is during the night, because, when a man is withdrawn from the presence of his fellow-creatures, he sees more clearly his sins, which otherwise would be hidden from his view; just as, on the contrary, the sight of men affects us with shame, and this is, as it were, a veil before our eyes, which prevents us from deliberately examining our faults. It is, therefore, as if David had said, O Lord, since the darkness of the night discovers the conscience more fully, all coverings being then taken away, and since, at that season, the affections, either good or bad, according to men’s inclinations, manifest themselves more freely, when there is no person present to witness and pronounce judgment upon them; if thou then examinest me, there will be found neither disguise nor deceit in my heart. 347347 “Il ne sera trouve desguisement ne fraude quelconque en mon coeur.” — Fr. Hence we conclude how great was David’s integrity, seeing that, when purposely and leisurely taking account of his inmost thoughts, he presents himself so boldly, to be tried by the judgment of God. And he not only declares himself to be innocent of outward crimes, but also free from all secret malice. So far from cherishing malicious designs, while he covered them over with fair pretences, as his enemies alleged, he protests that his words were a frank and undisguised representation of what was passing in his heart: My thought shall not pass beyond my mouth. Our thought is said to pass beyond our mouth when, for the purpose of deceiving, the mind thinks differently from what the tongue expresses. 348348 This is the sense put upon this last clause by the learned Castellio, who translates it thus:- “Non deprehendes me aliud in pectore, aliud in ore habere.” “Thou shalt not find me to have one thing in my breast and another in my mouth.” The word זמה, zimmah, which we have translated simply thought, may also be taken in a bad sense for deceitful and malicious devices.
4. As for the works of men, by the word of thy lips. Interpreters explain this verse in different senses. Some thinking that the letter ב, beth, which commonly signifies in or by, is taken for against, render it thus: As for the works of men which they practice against thy word. But I rather incline to the opinion of others who consider that there is here commended a right judgment of the actions of men which is formed according to the rule of the word of God. There are some shrewd and ingenious persons who carefully mark the works of men, but they do not judge of them according to the word of God. What we have as yet said does not, however, fully give us the sense of the passage. We must still consider what the Psalmist means when he speaks of the paths of the destroyer. 349349 Or, the paths of the violent. Literally of him who, by violent means, makes a breach in, or breaks down a wall or fence, the word פריף, pharits, being derived from פרף, pharats, to break down, or break through. It is referred by Calvin to the violent and wicked conduct of his enemies towards him. Some think he refers to the men of his own company, who, if he had not restrained them, would have instantly rushed like robbers to commit depredation; since being reduced to the greatest distress, and seeing no prospect of an alteration to the better in their affairs, they were become bold through despair; and we know how sharp a spur necessity is in goading men forward in any course. But this exposition seems to me to be forced, and therefore I rather refer the words to his enemies. Farther, there is a diversity of opinion among interpreters with respect to the meaning of the word watched or observed. Some understand it in this sense, that David had done his duty in strenuously opposing outrageous men, and those who were wickedly engaged in the work of disturbing the repose and tranquillity of their fellow-men. 350350 “De troubler le repos et la tranquillite des autres.” — Fr. Others understand it thus, that he was careful to distinguish between good and evil, or right and wrong, that he might not be corrupted by bad examples, 351351 “Afin de n’estre point corrompu par mauvals exemples.” — Fr. but avoid them, and, on the contrary, practice those things which he saw to be agreeable to the word of God. But David, I have no doubt, had a different meaning, and intended to declare, that although wicked and malicious men provoked him to evil, he had, nevertheless, been always restrained by the word of God, so that he kept himself from exercising violence and inflicting injuries, or from rendering evil for evil. 352352 “or have kept me from the paths, etc. or observed the paths, viz., so as to avoid them.” — Poole’s Annotations. He therefore tells us, that whatever may have been the works of men, he had been always so devoted to the word of God, and so hung, as it were, upon his mouth, that he could not think of allowing himself, when provoked by the injuries his enemies inflicted on him, to act towards them as they acted towards him. We know how severe a temptation it is, and how difficult to overcome, to disregard the manner in which men behave themselves towards us, and to consider only what God forbids or commands us. Even those who are naturally inclined to gentleness and humanity, 353353 “Car mesme ceux qui sont de nature enclins a debonnairete.” — Fr. who desire to do good to all men, and wish to hurt nobody, whenever they are provoked, burst forth into a revengeful mood, carried away by a blind impetuosity; especially when we see all right and equity overthrown, the confusion so blinds us, that we begin to howl with the wolves. If, therefore, we would have a good rule for governing ourselves, when our enemies, by their mischievous actions, provoke us to treat them in a similar manner, let us learn, after the example of David, to meditate upon the word of God, and to keep our eyes fixed upon it. By this means our minds will be preserved from ever being blinded, and we shall always avoid the paths of wickedness, seeing God will not only keep our affections under restraint by his commandments, but will also train them to patience by his promises. He withholds us from doing evil to our neighbors, 354354 “De real faire a nos prochains.” — Fr. not only by forbidding us, but by declaring, at the same time, that he will take into his own hand the execution of vengeance on those who injure us, 355355 “Qu’il prendra en main la vengence contre ceux qui nous outragent.” — Fr. he admonishes us to “give place unto wrath,” (Romans 12:19.)
5. Uphold my steps. If we take God’s paths for the precepts of his law, the sense will be evident, namely, that although David had spoken according to truth, in boasting of having, in the midst of the most grievous temptations which assailed him, constantly practiced righteousness with a pure heart, yet, conscious of his own weakness, he commits himself to God to be governed by him, and prays for grace to enable him to persevere. His language is as if he had said, Since hitherto, under thy guidance, I have proceeded onward in the right path, I beseech thee, in like manner, to keep my steps from sliding with respect to the time to come. And certainly the more any one excels in grace, 356356 “Et de faict, selon qu’un chacun a receu plus de graces.” — Fr. “And certainly the more grace any one has received.” the more ought he to be afraid of falling; for it is the usual policy of Satan to endeavor, even from the virtue and strength which God has given us, 357357 “De la vertu et force que Dieu nous aura donnee.” — Fr. to produce in us carnal confidence which may induce carelessness. I do not altogether reject this sense, but I think it more probable that David here beseeches God to bring his affairs to a prosperous issue, however dark the aspect of matters was at present. The import of his language is this, Lord, since thou seest that I walk in uprightness and sincerity of heart, govern thou me in such a manner as to make all men see that thou art my protector and guardian, and leave me not to be cast down at the will of my enemies. Thus, by the paths of the Lord, he will mean not the doctrine by which our life is regulated, but the power by which God upholds us, and the protection by which he preserves us. And he addresses God in this manner, not only because all events are in his hand, but because when he takes care of us all things in our lot go on prosperously. When he adds, that the soles of my feet may not slide, he refers to the many adverse events which threaten us every moment, and to the danger we are in of perishing, if not sustained by the hand of God.
6. I have called upon thee, etc. This verb being put in the past tense denotes a continued act; and, therefore, it includes the present time. The Hebrew word כי, ki, which we translate surely, often signifies because, and if it is so understood in this passage, the meaning will be, that David took encouragement to pray, because, depending upon the promise of God, he hoped that his prayers would not be in vain. But, perhaps, it may be thought preferable to change the tense of the verb as some do, so as to give this meaning, I will pray, because I have hitherto experienced that thou hast heard 358358 The Septuagint renders the verb in the past tense, “Επηκουσας μου,” “Thou hast heard me.” The Syriac and Vulgate give a similar rendering. The verb, in the Hebrew, is in the future; but it is a common thing in Hebrew to use the future tense for the past. my prayers. I have, however, chosen the exposition what appears to me the more simple. David, in my judgment, here encourages and animates himself to call upon God, from the confident hope of being heard, as if he had said, Since I call upon thee, surely, O God, thou wilt not despise my prayers. Immediately after he beseeches God to bestow upon him the blessings of which he told us he entertained an assured hope.
7. Make marvellous thy mercies. As the word הפלה, haphleh, signifies sometimes to make wonderful, or remarkable, and sometimes to separate and set apart, both these senses will be very suitable to this passage. In Psalm 31:19, the “goodness” of God is said to be “laid up” in store as a peculiar treasure “for them that fear him,” that he may bring it forth at the proper season, even when they are brought to an extremity, and when all things seem to be desperate. If, then, the translation, separate and set apart thy mercy, is preferred, the words are a prayer that God would display towards his servant David the special grace which he communicates to none but his chosen ones. While God involves both the good and the bad in danger indiscriminately, he at length shows, by the different issue of things, in regard to the two classes, that he does not confusedly mingle the chaff and the wheat together, seeing he gathers his own people into a company by themselves, (Matthew 3:12, and Matthew 25:32.) I, however, prefer following another exposition. David, in my judgment, perceiving that he could only be delivered from the perilous circumstances in which he was placed by singular and extraordinary means, betakes himself to the wonderful or miraculous power of God. Those who think he desires God to withhold his grace from his persecutors do too great violence to the scope of the passage. By this circumstance there is expressed the extreme danger to which David was exposed; for otherwise it would have been enough for him to have been succoured in the ordinary and common way in which God is accustomed daily to favor and to aid his own people. The grievousness of his distress, therefore, constrained him to beseech God to work miraculously for his deliverance. The title with which he here honors God, O thou preserver of those who trust [in thee,] serves to confirm him in the certain hope of obtaining his requests. As God takes upon him the charge of saving all who confide in him, David being one of their number, could upon good ground assure himself of safety and deliverance. Whenever, therefore, we approach God, let the first thought impressed on our minds be, that as he is not in vain called the preserver of those who trust in him, we have no reason whatever to be afraid of his not being ready to succor us, provided our faith continue firmly to rely upon his grace. And if every way of deliverance is shut up, let us also at the same time remember that he is possessed of wonderful and inconceivable means of succouring us, which serve so much the more conspicuously to magnify and manifest his power. But as the participle trusting, or hoping, is put without any additional word expressing the object of this trust or hope, 361361 Poole observes, that the Hebrew phrase for “them which trust,” might be properly rendered without any supplement, “believers.” some interpreters connect it with the last words of the verse, thy right hand, as if the order of the words were inverted. They, therefore, resolve them thus, O thou preserver of those who trust in thy right hand, from those who rise up against them. As this, however, is harsh and strained, and the exposition which I have given is more natural, and more generally received, 362362 Calvin’s rendering is the same as that of the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Syriac versions let us follow it. To express, therefore, the meaning in one sentence, the Psalmist attributes to God the office of defending and preserving his own people from all the ungodly who rise up to assault them, and who, if it were in their power, would destroy them. And the ungodly are here said to exalt themselves against the hand of God, because, in molesting the faithful whom God has taken under his protection, they openly wage war against him. The doctrine contained in these words, namely, that when we are molested, an outrage is committed upon God in our person, is a very profitable one; for having once declared himself to be the guardian and protector of our welfare, whenever we are unjustly assailed, he puts forth his hand before us as a shield of defense.
The two similitudes which David has subjoined in the following verse, respecting the apple of the eye, and the little birds which the mother keeps under her wings, 363363 “Et des petis oiseaux que la mere tient sous ses ailes.” — Fr. are introduced for illustrating the same subject. God, to express the great care which he has of his own people, compares himself to a hen and other fowls, which spread out their wings to cherish and cover their young, and declares them to be no less dear to him than the apple of the eye, which is the tenderest part of the body, is to man; it follows, therefore, that whenever men rise up to molest and injure the righteous, war is waged against him. As this form of prayer was put into the mouth of David by the Holy Spirit, it is to be regarded as containing in it a promise. We have here presented to our contemplation a singular and an astonishing proof of the goodness of God, in humbling himself so far, and in a manner so to speak, transforming himself, in order to lift up our faith above the conceptions of the flesh.
9. From the face of the ungodly. The Psalmist, by again accusing his enemies, intends to set forth his own innocence, as an argument for his obtaining the favor of God. At the same time, he complains of their cruelty, that God may be the more inclined to aid him. First, he says that they burn with an enraged desire to waste and to destroy him; secondly, he adds, that they besiege him in his soul, by which he means, that they would never rest satisfied until they had accomplished his death. The greater, therefore, the terror with which we are stricken by the cruelty of our enemies, the more ought we to be quickened to ardor in prayer. God, indeed, does not need to receive information and incitement from us; but the use and the end of prayer is, that the faithful, by freely declaring to God the calamities and sorrows which oppress them, and in disburdening them, as it were, into his bosom, may be assured beyond all doubt that he has a regard to their necessities.
10. They have inclosed themselves in their own fat If the translation which is given by others is considered preferable, They have inclosed their own fat, the meaning will be quite the same. Some Jewish interpreters explain the words thus: that being stuffed with fat, and their throat being, as it were, choked with it, they were unable to speak freely; but this is a very meagre and unsatisfactory exposition. By the word fat, I think, is denoted the pride with which they were filled and swollen, as it were, with fatness. It is a very appropriate and expressive metaphor to represent them as having their hearts choked up with pride, in the manner in which corpulent persons are affected from the fat within them. 365365 “Comme les gens replets se trouvent saisis de leur graisse au dedans.” — Fr. “The sacred writers employ this term [fat] to signify a body pampered to excess by luxury and self-indulgence, Psalm 73:7; 119:70; Job 15:27.” - French and Skinner’s Translation of the Book of Psalms. There may no doubt be a reference to the personal appearance and sensual indulgence of David’s enemies. But something more is implied. “We know that, in the figurative language of Scripture fatness denotes pride. This connection of ideas is still maintained in the East, where, when it is intended to indicate a proud man, he is said to be fat, or to look fat, whether really so or not.” — Illustrated Commentary upon the Bible. David complains of their being puffed up with their wealth and pleasures, and accordingly we see the ungodly, the more luxuriously they are pampered, conducting themselves the more outrageously and proudly. But I think there is described by the word fat an inward vice namely, their being inclosed on all sides with arrogance and presumption, and their having become utter strangers to every feeling of humanity. 366366 Dr Geddes translates the clause, “Their hearts have they hardened.” “Literally,” says he, “they have closed their midriff; — shut out all compassion from their hearts.” The Hebrew word which is rendered fat is explained by Gesenius, when used figuratively, as denoting a fat, that is, an unfeeling heart. The Psalmist next declares that this is abundantly manifested in their language. In short, his meaning is, that inwardly they swell with pride, and that they take no pains to conceal it, as appears from the high swelling words to which they give utterance. When it is said, They have spoken proudly with their mouth, the word mouth is not a pleonasm, as it often is in other places; for David means, that with mouths widely opened they pour forth scornful and contemptuous language, which bears testimony to the pride which dwells within them.
11. They have now compassed me round about in our steps. The Psalmist confirms what he has said before concerning the furious passion for doing mischief with which his enemies were inflamed. He says they were so cruelly bent on accomplishing his destruction, that in whatever way he directed or altered his course, they ceased not to follow close upon him. When he says our steps, he doubtless comprehends his own companions, although he immediately after returns to speak of himself alone; unless, perhaps, another reading is preferred, for some copies have סבבונו, sebabunu, They have compassed us, in the plural number. This, however, is not a matter of great importance. David simply complains, that unless God stretch forth his hand from heaven to deliver him, there now remains for him no way of escape, seeing his enemies, whenever he stirs his foot to avoid their fury, immediately pursue him, and watch all his steps. By the adverb now, he intimates not only that he is at present in very great danger, but also that at every moment his enemies, in whatever way he turns himself, pursue and press hard upon him. In the last clause, They have fixed their eyes to cast down to the ground, some consider David as comparing his enemies to hunters, who, with eyes fixed on the ground, are silently looking with eager desire for their prey. They, therefore, think that by the eyes fixed on the ground is denoted the gesture or attitude of David’s adversaries, and certainly crafty and malicious men have their countenance often fixed on the ground. According to others, whose opinion is nearer the spirit of the passage, this form of expression signifies the continual and unwearied ardor by which the ungodly are impelled to turn all things upside down. To fix their eyes, therefore, is nothing else than to apply all their ingenuity, and put forth all their efforts. What follows, to cast down to the ground, is the same thing as to overthrow. The ungodly, as if they must necessarily fall, should the world continue to stand, would wish all mankind thrown down or destroyed, and, therefore, they exert themselves to the utmost to bring down and ruin all men. This is explained more fully by the figurative illustration introduced in the following verse, where they are said to be like lions and lions’ whelps 367367 In the French version it is lionceaux, young lions. French and Skinner read “like a lion,” and “like a young lion;’ and observe, “The word translated ‘young lion’ signifies a lion in the rigour of youth, and fully capable of pursuing his prey.” But we ought always to keep this truth in remembrance, that the more proudly wicked men exercise their cruelty against us, the hand of God is so much the nearer to us to oppose itself to their savage fury; for to him alone belongs the praise of subduing and restraining these wild beasts who delight in shedding blood. David speaks of dens, or secret lurking places, because his enemies were deeply skilled in artful stratagem, and had various methods of doing mischief, while they had also at hand the power and means of executing them, so that it was difficult to resist them.
13. Arise, O Jehovah. The more furiously David was persecuted by his enemies, he beseeches God the more earnestly to afford him immediate aid; for he uses the word face to denote the swift impetuosity of his adversary, to repress which there was need of the greatest haste. By these words, the Holy Spirit teaches us, that when death shows itself to be just at hand, God is provided with remedies perfectly prepared, by which he can effect our deliverance in a moment. The Psalmist not only attributes to God the office of delivering his people; he at the same time arms him with power to crush and break in pieces the wicked. He does not, however, wish them to be cast down farther than was necessary to their being humbled, that they might cease from their outrageous and injurious conduct towards him, as we may gather from the following clause, where he again beseeches God to deliver his soul David would have been contented to see them continuing in the possession of their outward ease and prosperity, had they not abused their power by practising injustice and cruelty. Let us know then, that God consults the good of his people when he overthrows the ungodly, and breaks their strength; when he does this, it is for the purpose of delivering from destruction the poor innocents who are molested by these wretched men. 370370 “Qui sont molestez par ces malheureux.” — Fr. Some expositors read the passage thus, From the ungodly man, who is thy sword, 371371 “It may be questioned whether David, in this or the next clause, intended to represent wicked men as the sword and the hand of God; that is, the instruments which he employed to correct his servants; or whether his meaning was to pray that God would interpose his own hand and sword to defend him and punish his enemies. The latter sense is adopted by some interpreters; but as the former is a perfectly Scriptural sentiment, and requires the supposition of no ellipsis, it appears to me to be most likely what is intended. Vide Isaiah 10:5.” — Walford. Many of the most eminent critics, however, adopt the translation which Calvin has given, as Hammond, Houbigant, Ainsworth, Bishops Lowth, Horsley, Home, and Hare, Dr Boothroyd, Dr Adam Clarke, Dathe, and Venema. The reading in Tyndale’s Bible is, “Deliver my soul with thy sword from the ungodly.” and also, From the men who are thy hand; but this does not seem to me to be a proper translation. I admit, that from whatever quarter afflictions come to us, it is the hand of God which chastises us, and that the ungodly are the scourges he employs for this purpose; and farther, that this consideration is very well fitted to lead us to exercise patience. But as this manner of speaking would here be somewhat harsh, and, at the same time, not very consistent with the prayer, I prefer adopting the exposition which represents David’s words as a prayer that God would deliver him by his sword, and smite with his hand those men who, for too long a time, had been in possession of power and prosperity. He contrasts God’s sword with human aids and human means of relief; and the import of his words is, If God himself does not come forth to take vengeance, and draw his sword, there remains for me no hope of deliverance.
14. From men by thy hand, O Jehovah, from men who are from an age. I connect these words thus: O Lord, deliver me by thy hand, or by thy heavenly aid, from men; I say from men whose tyranny has prevailed too long, and whom thou hast suffered to wallow too long in the filth and draft of their prosperity. This repetition is very emphatic; David’s voice being stifled, as it were, with the indignation which he felt at seeing such villany continuing for so long a period, he stops all at once after uttering the first word, without proceeding farther in the sentence which he meant to express; then, after having recovered his breath, he declares what it is that so greatly distressed him. In the preceding verse he had spoken in the singular number; but now he gives us to understand that he had not only one enemy but many, and that those who were set against him were strong and powerful, so that he saw no hope of deliverance remaining for him except in the aid of God.
These words, from world, or age, (for such is the exact literal rendering, 372372 “Ou siecle car il y a ainsi mot a mot.” — Fr. ) are expounded in different ways. Some understand them as meaning men who have their time, as if David intended to say that their prosperous condition would not be of long duration; but this does not appear to me to be the proper explanation. Others suppose he means by this expression such as are wholly devoted to the world, and whose whole attention and thoughts are absorbed in the things of earth; and, according to their opinion, David compares his enemies to brute beasts. In the same sense they explain what follows immediately after, Their portion is in life, language which they consider as applied to them, because, being entirely destitute of the Spirit, and cleaving with their whole hearts to transitory good things, they think of nothing better than this world. For that in which each man places his felicity is termed his portion. As, however, the Hebrew word חלד, cheled, signifies an age, or the course of a man’s life, David, I doubt not, complains that his enemies had lived and enjoyed prosperity longer than the ordinary term allotted to the life of man. The audacity and the outrages 373373 “L’audace et les outrages.” — Fr. committed by wicked men might be borne with for a short time, but when they wax wanton against God, it is very strange indeed to see them continuing stable in their prosperous condition. That this is the sense appears from the preposition מן, min, which we have translated from, by which David expresses that they were not sprung up only a few days before or lately, but that their prosperity, which should have vanished away in a moment, had lasted for a very long time. Such, then, is the meaning of the Psalmist, unless, perhaps, we may understand him as denominating them of the world, or age, because they bear the chief authority among men, and are exalted in honors and riches, as if this world had been made for them alone.
When he says, Their portion is in life, I explain it as meaning that they are exempted from all troubles, and abound in pleasures; in short, that they do not experience the common condition of other men; as, on the contrary, when a man is oppressed with adversities, it is said of him that his portion is in death. David therefore intimates, that it is not a reasonable thing that the ungodly should be permitted to gad about in joy and gaiety without having any fear of death, and to claim for themselves, as if by hereditary right, a peaceful and happy life.
What he adds immediately after, Whose belly thou fillest with thy secret goods, is of the same import. We see these persons not only enjoying, in common with other men, light, breath, food, and all other commodities of life, but we also see God often treating them more delicately and more bountifully than others, as if he fed them on his lap, holding them tenderly like little babes, and fondling them more than all the rest of mankind. 374374 “Comme s’il les nourissok en son giron, les tenant tendrement et mignardant plus que tout le reste.” — Fr. Accordingly, by the secret goods of God, we are here to understand the rare and more exquisite dainties which he bestows upon them. Now, this is a severe temptation, if a man estimates the love and favor of God by the measure of earthly prosperity which he bestows; and, therefore, it is not to be wondered at, though David was greatly afflicted in contemplating the prosperous condition of ungodly men. But let us remember that he makes this holy complaint to console himself, and to mitigate his distress, not in the way of murmuring against God and resisting his will; - let us remember this, I say, that, after his example, we may learn also to direct our groanings to heaven. Some give a more subtile exposition of what is here called God’s secret goods, viewing it as meaning the good things which the ungodly devour without thinking of or regarding him who is the author of them; or they suppose the good things of God to be called secret, because the reason why God pours them forth so abundantly upon the wicked is not apparent. But the exposition which I have given, as it is both simple and natural, so of itself it sufficiently disproves the others. The last point in this description is, that, by continual succession, these persons transmit their riches to their children and their children’s children. As they are not among the number of the children of God, to whom this blessing is promised, it follows, that when they are thus fattened, it is for the day of slaughter which he hath appointed. The object which David therefore has in view in making this complaint is, that God would make haste to execute vengeance, seeing they have so long abused his liberality and gentle treatment.
Having with anguish of heart declared before God the troubles which afflicted and tormented him, that he might not be overwhelmed with the load of temptations which pressed upon him, he now takes, as it were, the wings of faith and rises up to a region of undisturbed tranquillity, where he may behold all things arranged and directed in due order. In the first place, there is here a tacit comparison between the well regulated state of things which will be seen when God by his judgment shall restore to order those things which are now embroiled and confused, and the deep and distressing darkness which is in the world, when God keeps silence, and hides his face. In the midst of those afflictions which he has recounted, the Psalmist might seem to be plunged in darkness from which he would never obtain deliverance. 375375 “Desquelles il n’y oust issue aucune.” — Fr. When we see the ungodly enjoying prosperity, crowned with honors, and loaded with riches, they seem to be in great favor with God. But David triumphs over their proud and presumptuous boasting; and although, to the eye of sense and reason, God has cast him off, and removed him far from him, yet he assures himself that one day he will enjoy the privilege of familiarly beholding him. The pronoun I is emphatic, as if he had said, The calamities and reproaches which I now endure will not prevent me from again experiencing fullness of joy from the fatherly love of God manifested towards me. We ought carefully to observe, that David, in order to enjoy supreme happiness, desires nothing more than to have always the taste and experience of this great blessing that God is reconciled to him. The wicked may imagine themselves to be happy, but so long as God is opposed to them, they deceive themselves in indulging this imagination. To behold God’s face, is nothing else than to have a sense of his fatherly favor, with which he not only causes us to rejoice by removing our sorrows, but also transports us even to heaven. By the word righteousness, David means that he will not be disappointed of the reward of a good conscience. As long as God humbles his people under manifold afflictions, the world insolently mocks at their simplicity, as if they deceived themselves, and lost their pains in devoting themselves to the cultivation and practice of purity and innocence. 376376 “Comme s’ils s’abusoyent et perdoyent leurs peines en s’adonnant a purete et innocence.” — Fr. Against such kind of mockery and derision David is here struggling, and in opposition to it he assures himself that there is a recompense laid up for his godliness and uprightness, provided he continue to persevere in his obedience to the holy law of God; as Isaiah, in like manner, (Isaiah 3:10,) exhorts the faithful to support themselves from this consideration, that “it shall be well with the righteous: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings.” We ought not, however, from this to think that he represents works as the cause of his salvation. It is not his purpose to treat of what constitutes the meritorious ground upon which he is to be received into the favor of God. He only lays it down as a principle, that they who serve God do not lose their labor, for although he may hide his face from them for a time, he causes them again in due season to behold his bright countenance 377377 “Il lui fait tousjours derechet contempler finalment son clair visage et son oeil debonnaire.” — Fr. and compassionate eye beaming upon them.
I shall be satisfied. Some interpreters, with more subtility than propriety, restrict this to the resurrection at the last day, as if David did not expect to experience in his heart a blessed joy 378378 “Comme si David remettoit a la vie a venir l’esperance de sentir en son coeur une joye heureuse.” — Fr. until the life to come, and suspended every longing desire after it until he should attain to that life. I readily admit that this satisfaction of which he speaks will not in all respects be perfect before the last coming of Christ; but as the saints, when God causes some rays of the knowledge of his love to enter into their hearts, find great enjoyment in the light thus communicated, David justly calls this peace or joy of the Holy Spirit satisfaction. The ungodly may be at their ease, and have abundance of good things, even to bursting, but as their desire is insatiable, or as they feed upon wind, in other words, upon earthly things, without tasting spiritual things, in which there is substance, 379379 “C’est a dire de choses terriennes, sans gouster les choses spirituelles esquelles il y a fermete.” — Fr. or being so stupified through the pungent remorse of conscience with which they are tormented, as not to enjoy the good things which they possess, they never have composed and tranquil minds, but are kept unhappy by the inward passions with which they are perplexed and agitated. It is therefore the grace of God alone which can give us contentment, 380380 “Qui nous puisse donner contentement.” — Fr. and prevent us from being distracted by irregular desires. David, then, I have no doubt, has here an allusion to the empty joys of the world, which only famish the soul, while they sharpen and increase the appetite the more, 381381 “Lesquelles ne font qu’affamer et augmenter tousjours tout plus l’appetit.” — Fr. in order to show that those only are partakers of true and substantial happiness who seek their felicity in the enjoyment of God alone. As the literal rendering of the Hebrew words is, I shall be satisfied in the awaking of thy face, or, in awaking by thy face; some, preferring the first exposition, understand by the awaking of God’s face the breaking forth, or manifestation of the light of his grace, which before was, as it were, covered with clouds. But to me it seems more suitable to refer the word awake to David, 382382 The Chaldee version applies it to David, and reads, “When I shall awake, I shall be satisfied with the glory of thy countenance.” But the Septuagint, the Vulgate, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions apply the verb, awake to thy glory. “Εν τῳ ὀφθηναι την δοξαν σου,” “At the appearing of thy glory,” says the Septuagint. “Cum apparuerit gloria tua,” “When thy glory shall appear,” says the Vulgate. and to view it as meaning the same thing as to obtain respite from his sorrow. David had never indeed been overwhelmed with stupor; but after a lengthened period of fatigue, through the persecution of his enemies, he must needs have been brought into such a state as to appear sunk into a profound sleep. The saints do not sustain and repel all the assaults which are made upon them so courageously as not, by reason of the weakness of their flesh, to feel languid and feeble for a time, or to be terrified, as if they were enveloped in darkness. David compares this perturbation of mind to a sleep. But when the favor of God shall again have arisen and shone brightly upon him, he declares that then he will recover spiritual strength and enjoy tranquillity of mind. It is true, indeed, as Paul declares, that so long as we continue in this state of earthly pilgrimage, “we walk by faith, not by sight;” but as we nevertheless behold the image of God not only in the glass of the gospel, but also in the numerous evidences of his grace which he daily exhibits to us, let each of us awaken himself from his lethargy, that we may now be satisfied with spiritual felicity, until God, in due time, bring us to his own immediate presence, and cause us to enjoy him face to face.