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71. Psalm 71
1In thee, O Jehovah, do I take refuge:
Let me never be put to shame.
2Deliver me in thy righteousness, and rescue me:
Bow down thine ear unto me, and save me.
3Be thou to me a rock of habitation, whereunto I may continually resort:
Thou hast given commandment to save me;
For thou art my rock and my fortress.
4Rescue me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked,
Out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man.
5For thou art my hope, O Lord Jehovah:
Thou art my trust from my youth.
6By thee have I been holden up from the womb;
Thou art he that took me out of my mother's bowels:
My praise shall be continually of thee.
7I am as a wonder unto many;
But thou art my strong refuge.
8My mouth shall be filled with thy praise,
And with thy honor all the day.
9Cast me not off in the time of old age;
Forsake me not when my strength faileth.
10For mine enemies speak concerning me;
And they that watch for my soul take counsel together,
11Saying, God hath forsaken him:
Pursue and take him; for there is none to deliver.
12O God, be not far from me;
O my God, make haste to help me.
13Let them be put to shame and consumed that are adversaries to my soul;
Let them be covered with reproach and dishonor that seek my hurt.
14But I will hope continually,
And will praise thee yet more and more.
15My mouth shall tell of thy righteousness,
And of thy salvation all the day;
For I know not the numbers thereof.
16I will come with the mighty acts of the Lord Jehovah:
I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only.
17O God, thou hast taught me from my youth;
And hitherto have I declared thy wondrous works.
18Yea, even when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not,
Until I have declared thy strength unto the next generation,
Thy might to every one that is to come.
19Thy righteousness also, O God, is very high;
Thou who hast done great things, O God, who is like unto thee?
20Thou, who hast showed us many and sore troubles,
Wilt quicken us again,
And wilt bring us up again from the depths of the earth.
21Increase thou my greatness,
And turn again and comfort me.
22I will also praise thee with the psaltery,
Even thy truth, O my God:
Unto thee will I sing praises with the harp,
O thou Holy One of Israel.
23My lips shall shout for joy when I sing praises unto thee;
And my soul, which thou hast redeemed.
24My tongue also shall talk of thy righteousness all the day long;
For they are put to shame, for they are confounded, that seek my hurt.
1. In thee, O Jehovah! do I put my trust. It has been thought that the occasion of the composition of this psalm was the conspiracy of Absalom; and the particular reference which David makes to his old age renders this conjecture not improbable. As when we approach God, it is faith alone which opens the way for us, David, in order to obtain what he sought, protests, according to his usual manner, that he does not pour forth at the throne of grace hypocritical prayers, but betakes himself to God with sincerity of heart, fully persuaded that his salvation is laid up in the Divine hand. The man whose mind is in a state of constant fluctuation, and whose hope is divided by being turned in different directions, in each of which he is looking for deliverance, or who, under the influence of fear, disputes with himself, or who obstinately refuses the Divine assistance, or who frets and gives way to restless impatience, is unworthy of being succoured by God. The particle לעולם, leolam, in the end of the first verse, which we have translated for ever, admits of a twofold sense, as I have shown on Psalm 31:1. It either tacitly implies a contrast between the present calamities of David and the happy issue which he anticipated; as if he had said, Lord, I lie in the dust at present as one confounded; but the time will come when thou wilt grant me deliverance. Or not to be ashamed for ever, means never to be ashamed. As these verses almost correspond with the beginning of the 31st psalm, I would refer to that place for those explanatory remarks which I here purposely omit, not wishing to tax the patience of my readers by unnecessary repetition.
In these words of the third verse, Into which I may at all times enter, which are not to be found in the other psalm, David briefly prays that he may have so ready and easy access to God for succor, as to find in him a secure refuge whenever threatened by any immediate danger. Lord! as if he had said, let me always find ready succor in thee, and do thou meet me with a smile of benignity and grace, when I betake myself to thee. The expression which follows, Thou hast given commandment to save me, is resolved by some interpreters into the optative mood; as if David requested that he might be committed to the guardianship of angels. But it is better to retain the past tense of the verb, and to understand him as encouraging himself, from his experience in times past, to hope for a happy issue to his present calamities. Nor is there any necessity for limiting to the angels the verb, thou hast given commandment. God, no doubt, employs them in defending his people; but as he is possessed of innumerable ways of saving them, the expression, I conceive, is used indefinitely, to teach us that he gives commandment concerning the salvation of his servants, according as he has purposed, whenever he gives some manifest token of his favor toward them in his providence; and what he has determined in his own mind, he executes sometimes by his nod alone, and sometimes by the instrumentality of men or other creatures. Meanwhile, David would intimate that such is the all-sufficient power of God intrinsically considered, that without having recourse to any foreign aid, his commandment alone is abundantly adequate for effecting our salvation.
4. O my God! deliver me from the hand of the wicked man. Here he uses the singular number; but he is not to be understood as indicating one man only. 102102 At the same time, it may be observed, that if this psalm was written during the rebellion of Absalom, this cruel son or Achitophel may be the person whom David has here in his eye, and describes in the singular number. If he refers to his own son, how deep must have been his agony of soul to be under the necessity of appealing to God in his present distressing circumstances, against an unnatural and wicked child, around whom all the affections of his heart were intwined! What Calvin renders, in the last clause of the verse, “the violent man,” is literally “leavened man.” Leaven seems to be an image for deep and inveterate depravity of any kind. “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees,” said our Lord. — (Matthew 16:6; see also 1 Corinthians 5:8.) It is highly probable that he comprehends the whole host of the enemies who assaulted him. We have elsewhere had occasion to observe how greatly it contributes to inspire us with the confidence of obtaining our requests, when we are so assured of our own integrity, as to be able freely to complain before God that we are unjustly and wickedly assaulted by our enemies; for we ought not to doubt that God, who has promised to become the defender of those who are unjustly oppressed, will, in that case, undertake our cause.
5. For thou art my expectation, O Lord Jehovah! The Psalmist here repeats what he had said a little before concerning his trust or confidence. But some, perhaps, may be inclined to refer this sentence rather to the matter or ground afforded him for hope and confidence than to the emotions of his heart; supposing him to mean, that by the benefits which God had conferred upon him, he was furnished with well-grounded hope. And certainly he does not here simply declare that he hoped in God, but with this he conjoins experience, and acknowledges that even from his youth he had received tokens of the Divine favor, from which he might learn, that confidence is to be reposed in God alone. By adverting to what God had done for him, 106106 In the Latin version it is, “Ab affectu ipso;” which is probably a mistake for “Ab effecto ipso.” In the French version it is, “Par l’effet mesme.” he expresses the real cause of faith, (if I may so speak;) and from this we may easily perceive the powerful influence which the remembrance of God’s benefits had in nourishing his hope.
6. Upon thee have I been sustained from the womb. This verse corresponds with the preceding, except that David proceeds farther. He not only celebrates the goodness of God which he had experienced from his childhood, but also those proofs of it which he had received previous to his birth. An almost similar confession is contained in Psalm 22:9, 10, by which is magnified the wonderful power and inestimable goodness of God in the generation of men, the way and manner of which would be altogether incredible, were it not a fact with which we are quite familiar. If we are astonished at that part of the history of the flood, in which Moses declares (Genesis 8:13) that Noah and his household lived ten months amidst the offensive nuisance produced by so many living creatures, when he could not draw the breath of life, have we not equal reason to marvel that the infant, shut up within its mother’s womb, can live in such a condition as would suffocate the strongest man in half an hour? But we thus see how little account we make of the miracles which God works, in consequence of our familiarity with them. The Spirit, therefore, justly rebukes this ingratitude, by commending to our consideration this memorable instance of the grace of God, which is exhibited in our birth and generation. When we are born into the world, although the mother do her office, and the midwife may be present with her, and many others may lend their help, yet did not God, putting, so to speak, his hand under us, receive us into his bosom, what would become of us? and what hope would there be of the continuance of our life? Yea, rather, were it not for this, our very birth would be an entrance into a thousand deaths. God, therefore, is with the highest propriety said to take us out of our mother’s bowels To this corresponds the concluding part of the verse, My praise is continually of thee; by which the Psalmist means that he had been furnished with matter for praising God without intermission.
7. I have been as a prodigy to the great ones. He now makes a transition to the language of complaint, declaring that he was held in almost universal abhorrence by reason of the great calamities with which he was afflicted. There is an apparent, although only an apparent, discrepancy between these two statements; first, that he had always been crowned with the benefits of God; and, secondly, that he was accounted as a prodigy on account of his great afflictions; but we may draw from thence the very profitable doctrine, that he was not so overwhelmed by his calamities, heavy though they were, as to be insensible to the goodness of God which he had experienced. Although, therefore, he saw that he was an object of detestation, yet the remembrance of the blessings which God had conferred upon him, could not be extinguished by the deepest shades of darkness which surrounded him, but served as a lamp in his heart to direct his faith. By the term prodigy 107107 Green reads, “I am become a gazing-stock to the multitude.” Horsley, “‘I am become a prodigious sight to the many.’ A prodigious sight, ‘a sign which shall be spoken against,’ Luke 2:34.” “‘I am become, as it were, a portentous sign unto many.’ Many are willing to persuade themselves that my trials proceed directly from God’s wrath, and are intended to warn them against pursuing a like course of conduct.” — French and Skinner “A monster, i e., the supposed object of God’s signal displeasure. Comp. Isaiah 20:3; Ezekiel 12:6; 24:24, 27.” — Cresswell But others suppose that כמופת, hemopheth, as a prodigy, implies that the great and many dangers to which he had been exposed, and the extraordinary deliverances from them which he had experienced, marked him out as an object of wonder, so that men looked upon him as if he were exempted from the common lot of mankind, as if he possessed a charmed life, and were invulnerable to all assaults; and the second member of the verse has been viewed as the reason why he was so regarded: “for thou art my strong refuge.” is expressed no ordinary calamity. Had he not been afflicted in a strange and unusual manner, those to whom the miserable condition of mankind was not unknown would not have shrunk from him with such horror, and regarded him as so repulsive a spectacle. It was, therefore, a higher and more commendable proof of his constancy, that his spirit was neither broken nor enfeebled with sham but reposed in God with the stronger confidence, the more he was cast off by the world. The sentence is to be explained adversatively, implying that, although men abhorred him as a monster, yet, by leaning upon God, he continued in despite of all this unmoved. If it should be thought preferable to translate the word רבים, rabbim, which I have rendered great ones, by the word many, the sense will be, That David’s afflictions were generally known, and had acquired great notoriety, as if he had been brought forth upon a stage and exposed to the view of the whole people. But in my opinion it will be more suitable to understand the word of great men, or the nobles. There is no heart so strong and impervious to outward influences as not to be deeply pierced when those who are considered to excel in wisdom and judgment, and who are invested with authority, treat a suffering and an afflicted man with such indignity, that they shrink with horror from him, as if he were a monster. In the next verse, as if he had obtained the desire of his heart, he expresses it to be his resolution to yield a grateful acknowledgement to God. To encourage himself to hope with the greater confidence for a happy issue to his present troubles, he promises loudly to celebrate the praises of God, and to do this not only on one occasion, but to persevere in the exercise without intermission.
9. Cast me not off in the time of my old age. David having just now declared that God had been the protector of his life at his birth, and afterwards his foster-father in his childhood, and the guardian of his welfare during the whole course of his past existence; being now worn out with age, casts himself anew into the fatherly bosom of God. In proportion as our strength fails us — and then necessity itself impels us to seek God — in the same proportion should our hope in the willingness and readiness of God to succor us become strong. David’s prayer, in short, amounts to this: “Do thou, O Lord, who hast sustained me vigorous and strong in the flower of my youth, not forsake me now, when I am decayed and almost withered, but the more I stand in need of thy help, let the decrepitude and infirmities of age move thee to compassionate me the more.” From this verse expositors, not without good reason, conclude that the conspiracy of Absalom is the subject treated of in this psalm. And certainly it was a horrible and tragical spectacle, which tended to lead, not only the common people, but also those who excelled in authority, to turn away their eyes from him, as they would from a detestable monster, when the son, having driven his father from the kingdom, pursued him even through the very deserts to put him to death.
10. For my enemies have said of me, etc. He pleads, as an argument with God to show him mercy, the additional circumstance, that the wicked took greater license in cruelly persecuting him, from the belief which they entertained that he was rejected and abandoned of God. The basest of men, as we all know, become more bold and audacious, when, in tormenting the innocent, they imagine that this is a matter in which they have not to deal with God at all. Not only are they encouraged by the hope of escaping unpunished; but they also boast that all comes to pass according to their wishes, when no obstacle presents itself to restrain their wicked desires. What happened to David at that time is almost the ordinary experience of the children of God; namely, that the wicked, when once they come to believe that it is by the will of God that his people are exposed to them for a prey, give themselves uncontrolled license in doing them mischief. Measuring the favor of God only by what is the present condition of men, they conceive that all whom he suffers to be afflicted are despised, forsaken, and cast off by him. Such being their persuasion, they encourage and stimulate one another to practice every thing harassing and injurious against them, as persons who have none to undertake and avenge their cause. But this wanton and insulting 109109 “Atqui proterva haec eorum insultatio.” — Lat. “Mais cest enrage desdain et outrage.” — Fr. procedure on their part ought to encourage our hearts, since the glory of God requires that the promises which he has so frequently made of succouring the poor and afflicted should be actually performed. The ungodly may flatter themselves with the hope of obtaining pardon from him; but this foolish imagination does not by any means lessen the criminality of their conduct. On the contrary, they do a double injury to God, by taking away from him that which especially belongs to him.
12. O God! be not far from me. It is scarcely possible to express how severe and hard a temptation it was to David, when he knew that the wicked entertained the persuasion that he was rejected of God. They did not without consideration circulate this report; but after having seemed wisely to weigh all circumstances, they gave their judgment on the point as of a thing which was placed beyond all dispute. It was therefore an evidence of heroic fortitude on the part of David, 110110 “Parquoy c’a este une vertu a David plus qu’humaine.” — Fr. “It was therefore fortitude more than human for David.” thus to rise superior to their perverse judgments, and, in the face of them all, to assure himself that God would be gracious to him, and to betake himself familiarly to him. Nor is it to be doubted that, in calling God his God, he makes use of this as a means of defending himself from this hard and grievous assault.
While invoking the aid of God, he at the same time prays (verse 13) that his enemies may be filled with shame until they be consumed. These words, however, may not improperly be read in the future tense; for it is frequently the practice of David, after having ended his prayer, to rise up against his enemies, and, as it were, to triumph over them. But I have followed that which seems more agreeable to the scope of the passage. Having had occasion elsewhere to explain this imprecation, it is unnecessary for me to repeat, in this place, what I have previously said.
14. But I will hope continually. David again, as having obtained the victory, prepares himself for thanksgiving. There is, however, no doubt, that during the time when the wicked derided his simplicity, he struggled manfully amidst his distresses, as may be gathered from the word hope. Although, to outward appearance, there was no prospect of deliverance from his troubles, and although the wicked ceased not proudly to pour contempt upon his trust in God, he nevertheless determined to persevere in the exercise of hope; even as it is a genuine proof of faith, to look exclusively to the Divine promise, in order to be guided by its light alone amidst the thickest darkness of afflictions. The strength, then, of the hope of which David speaks, is to be estimated by the conflicts which he at that time sustained. In saying, I will add to all thy praises, he shows the confidence with which he anticipated a desirable escape from his troubles. It is as if he had said — Lord, I have been long accustomed to receive benefits from thee, and this fresh accession to them, I doubt not, will furnish me with new matter for celebrating thy grace.
15. My mouth shall recount thy righteousness Here he expresses more clearly what sacrifice of praise he resolved to present to God, promising to proclaim continually his righteousness and salvation. I have often before had occasion to observe, that the righteousness of God does not mean that property of his nature by which he renders to every man his own, but the faithfulness which he observes towards his own people, when he cherishes, defends, and delivers them. Hence the inestimable consolation which arises from learning that our salvation is so inseparably linked with the righteousness of God, as to have the same stability with this Divine attribute. The salvation of God, it is very evident, is taken in this place actively. The Psalmist connects this salvation with righteousness, as the effect with the cause; for his confident persuasion of obtaining salvation proceeded solely from reflecting that God is righteous, and that he cannot deny himself. As he had been saved so often, and in so many different ways, and so wonderfully, he engages to apply himself continually to the celebration of the grace of
God. The particle כי, ki, which we have translated for, is by some rendered adversatively although, and explained in this way: Although the salvation of God is to me incomprehensible, and transcends my capacity, yet I will recount it. But the
proper signification of the word is more suitable in this place, there being nothing which ought to be more effectual in kindling and exciting our hearts to sing the praises of God, than the innumerable benefits which he has bestowed upon us. Although our hearts may not be affected from having experienced only one or two of the Divine benefits; although they may remain cold and unmoved by a small number of them, yet our ingratitude is inexcusable, if we are not awakened from our torpor and
indifference when an innumerable multitude of them are lavished upon us. Let us learn then not to taste of the goodness of God slightly, and, as it were, with loathing, but to apply all our faculties to it in all its amplitude, that it may ravish us with admiration. It is surprising that the authors of the Greek version ever thought of translating this clause, I have not known learning,
The present reading of the Septuagint is, Οὐκ ἔγνων πραγματείας, “I know not the affairs of men;” but Nobilius, in his Notes on the Septuagint, observes, that in some Greek copies it is, γραμματείας, “learning,” of which reading Augustine makes mention; and as the Vulgate reads, “literaturam,” “learning,” this makes it more probable that the ancient reading of the LXX. was not πραγματείας, but γραμματειάς. Horsley has followed the LXX. He considers this clause as the commencement of a new sentence, and connects it with the 16th verse thus: —
“Although I am no proficient in learning;
I will enter upon [the subject of] the Lord Jehovah’s great might;
I will commemorate thy righteousness.”
In a foot-note he refers to John 7:15, “How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?” and to Matthew 13:54, 56; and in an additional note he says, “It is strange that Houbigant should treat an interpretation with contempt, which is supported by the versions of the LXX., Jerome, and the Vulgate; which the Hebrew words will naturally bear, and which gives great spirit to the sentiment.” Street reads: —
“Though I am ignorant of books,
I will proceed with strength,” etc.;
and observes, that “The word מספר signifies number, but ספר, signifies an epistle, a book.” an error unworthy of being noticed, were it not that some fanatics in former times, to flatter themselves in their ignorance, boasted that, after the example of David, all learning and liberal sciences should be despised; even as, in the present day, the Anabaptists have no other pretext for boasting of being spiritual persons, but that they are grossly ignorant 113113 “Expertes.” — Lat. “Gros asniers. — Fr. of all science.
16. I will go in the strength of the Lord Jehovah! This may also very properly be translated, I will go into the strengths; and this interpretation is not less probable than the other. As fear and sorrow take possession of our minds in the time of danger, from our not reflecting with that deep and earnest attention which becomes us upon the power of God; so the only remedy for alleviating our sorrow in our afflictions is to enter into God’s strengths, that they may surround and defend us on all sides. But the other reading, which is more generally received, I have thought proper to retain, because it also is very suitable, although interpreters differ as to its meaning. Some explain it, I will go forth to battle depending upon the power of God. But this is too restricted. To go is equivalent to abiding in a steady, settled, and permanent state. True believers, it must indeed be granted, so far from putting forth their energies without difficulty, and flying with alacrity in their heavenly course, rather groan through weariness; but as they surmount with invincible courage all obstacles and difficulties, not drawing back, or declining from the right way, or at least not failing through despair, they are on this account said to go forward until they have arrived at the termination of their course. In short, David boasts that he will never be disappointed of the help of God till he reach the mark. And because nothing is more rare or difficult in the present state of weakness and infirmity than to continue persevering, he collects all his thoughts in order to rely with entire confidence exclusively on the righteousness of God. When he says that he will be mindful of it ONLY, the meaning is, that, forsaking all corrupt confidences with which almost the whole world is driven about, he will depend wholly upon the protection of God, not allowing himself to wander after his own imaginations, or to be drawn hither and thither by surrounding objects.
Augustine quotes this text more than a hundred times as an argument to overthrow the merit of works, and plausibly opposes the righteousness which God gratuitously bestows to the meritorious righteousness of men. It must, however, be confessed that he wrests the words of David, and puts a sense upon them foreign to their genuine meaning, which simply is, that he does not rely upon his own wisdom, nor upon his own skill, nor upon his own strength, nor upon any riches which he possessed, as a ground for entertaining the confident hope of salvation, but that the only ground upon which he rests this hope is, that as God is righteous, it is impossible for God to forsake him. The righteousness of God, as we have just now observed, does not here denote that free gift by which he reconciles men to himself, or by which he regenerates them to newness of life; but his faithfulness in keeping his promises, by which he means to show that he is righteous, upright, and true towards his servants. Now, the Psalmist declares that the righteousness of God alone will be continually before his eyes, and in his memory; for unless we keep our minds fixed upon this alone, Satan, who is possessed of wonderful means by which to allure, will succeed in leading us astray after vanity. As soon as hopes from different quarters begin to insinuate themselves into our minds, there is nothing of which we are more in danger than of falling away. And whoever, not content with the grace of God alone, seeks elsewhere for the least succor, will assuredly fall, and thereby serve as an example to teach others how vain it is to attempt to mingle the stays of the world with the help of God. If David, in regard to his mere external condition in life, could remain stable and secure only by renouncing all other confidences, and casting himself upon the righteousness of God; what stability, I pray you to consider, are we likely to have, when the reference is to the spiritual and everlasting life, if we fall away, let it be never so little, from our dependence upon the grace of God? It is, therefore, undeniable that the doctrine invented by the Papists, which divides the work of perseverance in holiness between man’s free will and God’s grace, 114114 That is, which represents this work as performed, partly by God, and partly by a power which man has in himself underived from God. precipitates wretched souls into destruction.
17. O God! thou hast taught me from my youth. The Psalmist again declares the great obligations under which he lay to God for his goodness, not only with the view of encouraging himself to gratitude, but also of exciting himself to continue cherishing hope for the time to come: which will appear from the following verse. Besides, since God teaches us both by words and deeds, it is certain that the second species of teaching is here referred to, the idea conveyed being, that David had learned by continual experience, even from his infancy, that nothing is better than to lean exclusively upon the true God. That he may never be deprived of this practical truth, he testifies that he had made great proficiency in it. When he promises to become a publisher of God’s wondrous works, his object in coming under this engagement is, that by his ingratitude he may not interrupt the course of the Divine beneficence.
Upon the truth here stated, he rests the prayer which he presents in the 18th verse, that he may not be forgotten in his old age. His reasoning is this: Since thou, O God! hast from the commencement of my existence given me such abundant proofs of thy goodness, wilt thou not stretch forth thy hand to succor me, when now thou seest me decaying through the influence of old age? And, indeed, the conclusion is altogether inevitable, that as God vouchsafed to love us when we were infants, and embraced us with his favor when we were children, and has continued without intermission to do us good during the whole course of our life, he cannot but persevere in acting toward us in the same way even to the end. Accordingly, the particle גם, gam, which we have translated still, here signifies therefore; it being David’s design, from the consideration that the goodness of God can never be exhausted, and that he is not mutable like men, to draw the inference that he will be the same towards his people in their old age, that he was towards them in their childhood. He next supports his prayer by another argument, which is, that if he should fail or faint in his old age, the grace of God, by which he had been hitherto sustained, would at the same time soon be lost sight of. If God were immediately to withdraw his grace from us after we have but just tasted it slightly, it would speedily vanish from our memory. In like manner, were he to forsake us at the close of our life, after having conferred upon us many benefits during the previous part of it, his liberality by this means would be divested of much of its interest and attraction. David therefore beseeches God to assist him even to the end, that he may be able to commend to posterity the unintermitted course of the Divine goodness, and to bear testimony, even at his very death, that God never disappoints the faithful who betake themselves to him. By the generation and those who are to come, he means the children and the children’s children to whom the memorial of the loving-kindness of God cannot be transmitted unless it be perfect in all respects, and has completed its course. He mentions strength and power as the effects of God’s righteousness. He is, however, to be understood by the way as eulogising by these titles the manner of his deliverance, in which he congratulates himself; as if he had said, that God, in the way in which it was accomplished, afforded a manifestation of matchless and all-sufficient power.
19. And thy righteousness, O God! is very high. 115115 “Usque in excelsum.” — Lat “Est eslevee jusques en haut.” — Fr. “אד מרום, ad marom — is up to the exalted place, — reaches up to heaven The mercy of God fills all space and place It crowns in the heavens what it governed upon earth.” — Dr Adam Clarke Some connect this verse with the preceding, and repeating the verb I will declare, as common to both verses, translate, And I will declare thy righteousness, O God! But this being a matter of small importance, I will not dwell upon it. David prosecutes at greater length the subject of which he had previously spoken. In the first place, he declares that the righteousness of God is very high; secondly, that it wrought mightily; and, finally, he exclaims in admiration, Who is like thee? It is worthy of notice, that the righteousness of God, the effects of which are near to us and conspicuous, is yet placed on high, inasmuch as it cannot be comprehended by our finite understanding. Whilst we measure it according to our own limited standard, we are overwhelmed and swallowed up by the smallest temptation. In order, therefore, to give it free course to save us, it behoves us to take a large and a comprehensive view — to look above and beneath, far and wide, that we may form some due conceptions of its amplitude. The same remarks apply to the second clause, which makes mention of the works of God: For thou hast done great things. If we attribute to his known power the praise which is due to it, we will never want ground for entertaining good hope. Finally, our sense of the goodness of God should extend so far as to ravish us with admiration; for thus it will come to pass that our minds, which are often distracted by an unholy disquietude, will repose upon God alone. If any temptation thrusts itself upon us, we immediately magnify a fly into an elephant; or rather, we rear very high mountains, which keep the hand of God from reaching us; and at the same time we basely limit the power of God. The exclamation of David, then, Who is like thee? tends to teach us the lesson, that we should force our way through every impediment by faith, and regard the power of God, which is well entitled to be so regarded, as superior to all obstacles. All men, indeed, confess with the mouth, that none is like God; but there is scarce one out of a hundred who is truly and fully persuaded that He alone is sufficient to save us.
20. Thou hast made me to see great and sore troubles. The verb to see among the Hebrews, as is well known, is applied to the other senses also. Accordingly, when David complains that calamities had been shown to him, he means that he had suffered them. And as he attributes to God the praise of the deliverances which he had obtained, so he, on the other hand, acknowledges that whatever adversities he had endured were inflicted on him according to the counsel and will of God. But we must first consider the object which David has in view, which is to render by comparison the grace of God the more illustrious, in the way of recounting how hardly he had been dealt with. Had he always enjoyed a uniform course of prosperity, he would no doubt have had good reason to rejoice; but in that case he would not have experienced what it is to be delivered from destruction by the stupendous power of God. We must be brought down even to the gates of death before God can be seen to be our deliverer. As we are born without thought and understanding, our minds, during the earlier part of our life, are not sufficiently impressed with a sense of the Author of our existence; but when God comes to our help, as we are lying in a state of despair, this resurrection is to us a bright mirror from which is seen reflected his grace. In this way David amplifies the goodness of God, declaring, that though plunged in a bottomless abyss, he was nevertheless drawn out by the divine hand, and restored to the light. And he boasts not only of having been preserved perfectly safe by the grace of God, but of having also been advanced to higher honor — a change which was, as it were, the crowning of his restoration, and was as if he had been lifted out of hell, even up to heaven. What he repeats the third time, with respect to God’s turning, goes to the commendation of Divine Providence; the idea which he intends to be conveyed being, that no adversity happened to him by chance, as was evident from the fact that his condition was reversed as soon as the favor of God shone upon him.
22. I will also, O my God! praise thee. He again breaks forth into thanksgiving; for he was aware that the design of God, in so liberally succouring his servants, is, that his goodness may be celebrated. In speaking of employing the psaltery and the harp in this exercise, he alludes to the generally prevailing custom of that time. To sing the praises of God upon the harp and psaltery unquestionably formed a part of the training of the law, and of the service of God under that dispensation of shadows and figures; but they are not now to be used in public thanksgiving. We are not, indeed, forbidden to use, in private, musical instruments, but they are banished out of the churches by the plain command of the Holy Spirit, when Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:13, lays it down as an invariable rule, that we must praise God, and pray to him only in a known tongue. By the word truth, the Psalmist means that the hope which he reposed in God was rewarded, when God preserved him in the midst of dangers. The promises of God, and his truth in performing them, are inseparably joined together. Unless we depend upon the word of God, all the benefits which he confers upon us will be unsavoury or tasteless to us; nor will we ever be stirred up either to prayer or thanksgiving, if we are not previously illuminated by the Divine word. So much the more revolting, then, is the folly of that diabolical man, Servetus, who teaches that the rule of praying is perverted, if faith is fixed upon the promises; as if we could have any access into the presence of God, until he first invited us by his own voice to come to him.
23. My lips shall rejoice
“The original word רנם expresses a brisk, vibratory motion, like that of the lips in singing a lively air, or of the feet in dancing. Hence, figuratively, it signifies to rejoice or exult In this passage, it may be understood literally of the lips, and figuratively of the soul. And the English language having no corresponding verb which may be taken literally in reference to one subject, and figuratively in reference to another, it might be better to express its sense in connection with each, by two different verbs, thus: —
“My lips shall move briskly, when I sing unto thee,
And my soul shall rejoice, which thou, etc.”
— Horsley. when I sing to thee. In this verse David expresses more distinctly his resolution not to give thanks to God hypocritically, nor in a superficial manner, but to engage with unfeigned earnestness in this religious exercise. By the figures which he introduces, he briefly teaches us, that to praise God would be the source of his greatest pleasure; and thus he indirectly censures the profane mirth of those who, forgetting God, confine their congratulations to themselves in their prosperity. The scope of the last verse is to the same effect, implying that no joy would be sweet and desirable to him, but such as was connected with the praises of God, and that to celebrate his Redeemer’s praises would afford him the greatest satisfaction and delight.