World Wide Study Bible
a Bible passage
Thanksgiving for Vindication
A Psalm. A Song for the Sabbath Day.
It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
How great are your works, O Lord!
Your thoughts are very deep!
The dullard cannot know,
the stupid cannot understand this:
though the wicked sprout like grass
and all evildoers flourish,
they are doomed to destruction forever,
but you, O Lord, are on high forever.
For your enemies, O Lord,
for your enemies shall perish;
all evildoers shall be scattered.
But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox;
you have poured over me fresh oil.
My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies;
my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.
The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
In old age they still produce fruit;
they are always green and full of sap,
showing that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
1 It is good to give thanks unto Jehovah. There is no reason to doubt that the Jews were in the habit of singing this psalm, as the inscription bears, upon the Sabbath-day, and it is apparent, from different passages, that other psalms were applied to this use. As the words may be read literally in the Hebrew, it is good for giving thanks unto the Lord, some interpreters, founding upon the letter ל, lamed, prefixed to the verb, understand the Psalmist to mean that it was good to have a certain day set apart for singing the praises of God — that it was a useful arrangement by which one day had been chosen to be occupied by the Lord’s people in celebrating his works. But it is well known that this letter, when prefixed, is merely the ordinary mark of the infinitive mood — and I have given what is obviously the simple meaning. The reason why the Psalmist appropriated this psalm to the Sabbath is sufficiently obvious. That day is not to be holy, in the sense of being devoted to idleness, as if this could be an acceptable worship to God, but in the sense of our separating ourselves from all other occupations, to engage in meditating upon the Divine works. As our minds are inconstant, we are apt, when exposed to various distractions, to wander from God. 585585 “Car selon que nos pensees sont volages, si elles sont distraittes ca et la, elles s’alienent facilement de Dieu.” We need to be disentangled from all cares if we would seriously apply ourselves to the praises of God. The Psalmist then would teach us that the right observance of the Sabbath does not consist in idleness, as some absurdly imagine, but in the celebration of the Divine name. The argument which he adduces is drawn from the profitableness of the service, for nothing is more encouraging than to know that our labor is not in vain, and that what we engage in meets with the Divine approbation. In the succeeding verse, he adverts to the grounds which we have for praising God, that we may not imagine that God calls upon us to engage in this service without reason, or simply in consideration of his greatness and power, but in remembrance of his goodness and faithfulness, which should inflame our hearts to such exercise, if we had any proper sense and experience of them. He would have us consider, in mentioning these, that not only is God worthy of praise, but that we ourselves are chargeable with ingratitude and perversity should we refuse it. We are the proper objects of his faithfulness and goodness, and it would argue inexcusable indifference if they did not elicit our cordial praises. It might seem a strange distinction which the Psalmist observes when he speaks of our announcing God’s goodness in the morning, and his faithfulness at night. His goodness is constant, and not peculiar to any one season, why then devote but a small part of the day to the celebration of it? And the same may be said of the other Divine perfection mentioned, for it is not merely in the night that his faithfulness is shown. But this is not what the Psalmist intends. He means that beginning to praise the Lord from earliest dawn, we should continue his praises to the latest hour of the night, this being no more than his goodness and faithfulness deserve. 586586 “Que si nous commencons au matin de louer Dieu, il faut continuer ses louanges jusques a la derniere partie de la nuit; pource que sa bonte et fidelite meritent cela.” — Fr. If we begin by celebrating his goodness, we must next take up the subject of his faithfulness. Both will occupy our continued praises, for they stand mutually and inseparably connected. The Psalmist is not therefore to be supposed as wishing us to separate the one from the other, for they are intimately allied; he would only suggest that we can never want matter for praising God unless indolence prevail over us, and that if we would rightly discharge the office of gratitude, we must be assiduous in it, since his goodness and his faithfulness are incessant.
In the fourth verse, he more immediately addresses the Levites, who were appointed to the office of singers, and calls upon them to employ their instruments of music — not as if this were in itself necessary, only it was useful as an elementary aid to the people of God in these ancient times. 587587 “Mais pource que c’estoit un rudiment fort utile au peuple ancien.” — Fr. We are not to conceive that God enjoined the harp as feeling a delight like ourselves in mere melody of sounds; but the Jews, who were yet under age, were astricted to the use of such childish elements. The intention of them was to stimulate the worshippers, and stir them up more actively to the celebration of the praise of God with the heart. We are to remember that the worship of God was never understood to consist in such outward services, which were only necessary to help forward a people, as yet weak and rude in knowledge, in the spiritual worship of God. A difference is to be observed in this respect between his people under the Old and under the New Testament; for now that Christ has appeared, and the Church has reached full age, it were only to bury the light of the Gospel, should we introduce the shadows of a departed dispensation. From this, it appears that the Papists, as I shall have occasion to show elsewhere, in employing instrumental music, cannot be said so much to imitate the practice of God’s ancient people, as to ape it in a senseless and absurd manner, exhibiting a silly delight in that worship of the Old Testament which was figurative, and terminated with the Gospel. 588588 But although Calvin held the use of instrumental music in public worship to be inconsistent with the genius of the Christian dispensation, he regarded the celebration of the praises of God with the melody of the human voice as an institution of great solemnity and usefulness. He knew that psalm-singing is sanctioned by the apostles, and that music has a powerful influence in exciting the mind to ardor of devotion; and to him belongs the merit of having, with the advice of Luther, formed the plan of establishing, as a principal branch of public worship in the Reformed Churches, the singing of psalms, translated into the vernacular language, and adapted to plain and easy melodies, which all the people might learn, and in which they all might join. Immediately upon the publication of Clement Marot’s version of David’s Psalms into French rhymes at Paris, he introduced it into his congregation at Geneva, set to plain and popular music; and it soon came into universal use throughout the numerous congregations of the Reformed Church of France. At length Marot’s Psalms formed an appendix to the Catechism at Geneva, and became a characteristic mark or badge of the Calvinistic worship and profession. Marot’s translation, which did not aim at any innovation in the public worship, and which he dedicated to his master Francis I., and the ladies of France, received at first the sanction of the Sorbonne, as containing nothing contrary to sound doctrine. But Calvin knew the character of the book better than the doctors of the Sorbonne, and having, by his influence, obtained its introduction into the worship of the Protestant Church of France, it contributed so much, in consequence of its extraordinary popularity, to the advancement of the Reformed cause in that country, that it was interdicted under the most severe penalties; and, in the language of the Romish Church, psalm-singing and heresy became synonymous terms. — Warton’s History of English Poetry, volume 3, pages 164, 165.
4 Because thou, Jehovah, hast made me glad. The Psalmist repeats the truth that the Sabbath was not prescribed as a day of idleness, but a season when we should collect our whole energies for meditation upon the works of God. He intimates, at the same time, that those are best qualified for celebrating the praises of God who recognize and feel his fatherly goodness, and can undertake this service with willing and joyful minds. His language implies that the goodness and faithfulness of God, which he had already mentioned, are apparent in his works upon a due examination of them. What produces joy in our hearts is the exhibition which God gives of himself as a Father, and of his deep and watchful anxiety for our welfare; as, on the other hand, the cause of our brutish indifference is our inability to savor or relish the end designed in the works of God. 589589 “Comme aussi la cause de nostre paresse brutale est, que nous avons perdu tout goust quand il est question dee savourer la fin des oeuvres de Dieu.” As the universe proclaims throughout that God is faithful and good, it becomes us to be diligently observant of these tokens, and to be excited by a holy joy to the celebration of his praise.
5 O Jehovah! how highly exalted are thy works! The Psalmist, having spoken of the works of God in general, proceeds to speak more particularly of his justice in the government of the world. Though God may postpone the punishment of the wicked, he shows, in due time, that in conniving at their sins, he did not overlook or fail to perceive them; and though he exercises his own children with the cross, he proves in the issue, that he was not indifferent to their welfare. His reason for touching upon this particular point seems to be, that much darkness is thrown upon the scheme of Divine Providence by the inequality and disorder which prevail in human affairs. 590590 “Pource que la confusion difforme laquelle se voit en la vie des hommes, obscurcit grandement l’ordre de la providence de Dieu.” We see the wicked triumphing, and applauding their own good fortune, as if there was no judge above, and taking occasion from the Divine forbearance to run into additional excesses, under the impression that they have escaped his hand. The temptation is aggravated by that stupidity and blindness of heart which lead us to imagine that God exerts no superintendence over the world, and sits idle in heaven. It is known, too, how soon we are ready to sink under the troubles of the flesh. The Psalmist, therefore, intentionally selects this as a case in which he may show the watchful care exerted by God over the human family. He begins, by using the language of exclamation, for such is the dreadful distemper and disorder by which our understandings are confounded, that we cannot comprehend the method of God’s works, even when it is most apparent. We are to notice, that the inspired penman is not speaking here of the work of God in the creation of the heavens and earth, nor of his providential government of the world in general, but only of the judgments which he executes amongst men. He calls the works of God great, and his thoughts deep, because he governs the world in quite another manner than we are able to comprehend. Were things under our own management, we would entirely invert the order which God observes; and, such not being the case, we perversely expostulate with God for not hastening sooner to the help of the righteous, and to the punishment of the wicked. It strikes us as in the highest degree inconsistent with the perfections of God, that he should bear with the wicked when they rage against him, when they rush without restraint into the most daring acts of iniquity, and when they persecute at will the good and the innocent; — it seems, I say, in our eyes to be intolerable, that God should subject his own people to the injustice and violence of the wicked, while he puts no check upon abounding falsehood, deceit, rapine, bloodshed, and every species of enormity. Why does he suffer his truth to be obscured, and his holy name to be trampled under foot? This is that greatness of the Divine operation, that depth of the Divine counsel, into the admiration of which the Psalmist breaks forth. It is no doubt true, that there is an incomprehensible depth of power and wisdom which God has displayed in the fabric of the universe; but what the Psalmist has specially in view is, to administer a check to that disposition which leads us to murmur against God, when he does not pursue our plan in his providential managements. When anything in these may not agree with the general ideas of men, we ought to contemplate it with reverence, and remember that God, for the better trial of our obedience, has lifted his deep and mysterious judgments far above our conceptions.
6 The foolish man shall not know them. This is added with propriety, to let us know that the fault lies with ourselves, in not praising the Divine judgments as we ought. For although the Psalmist had spoken of them as deep and mysterious, he here informs us that they would be discerned without difficulty, were it not for our stupidity and indifference. By the foolish, he means unbelievers in general, tacitly contrasting them with believers who are divinely enlightened by the word and Spirit. The ignorance and blindness to which he alludes have possession of all without exception, whose understandings have not been illuminated by Divine grace. It ought to be our prayer to God, that he would purge our sight, and qualify us for meditation upon his works. In short, the Psalmist vindicates the incomprehensible wisdom of God from that contempt which proud men have often cast upon it, charging them with folly and madness in acting such a part; and he would arouse us from that insensibility which is too prevalent, to a due and serious consideration of the mysterious works of God.
7 When the wicked flourish as the grass. He points out, and exposes, by a striking and appropriate figure, the folly of imagining that the wicked obtain a triumph over God, when he does not, it may be, immediately bring them under restraint. He makes an admission so far — he grants that they spring up and flourish — but adds immediately, by way of qualification, that they flourish, like the grass, only for a moment, their prosperity being brief and evanescent. In this way he removes what has been almost a universal stumbling-block and ground of offense; for it would be ridiculous to envy the happiness of men who are doomed to be speedily destroyed, and of whom it may be said, that to-day they flourish, and to-morrow they are cut down and wither, (Psalm 129:6.) It will be shown, when we come to consider the psalm now quoted, that the herbs to which the wicked are compared are such as grow on the roofs of houses, which want depth of soil, and die of themselves, for lack of nourishment. In the passage now before us, the Psalmist satisfies himself with using simply the figure, that the prosperity of the wicked draws after it the speedier destruction, as the grass when it is full grown is ready for the scythe. There is an antithesis drawn, too, between the shortness of their continuance and the everlasting destruction which awaits them; for they are not said to be cut down that they may flourish again, as withered plants will recover their vigor, but to be condemned to eternal perdition. 591591 “Comme s’il disoit qu’ils ne sont point retranchez, afin que sur le prim-temps ils rejettent derechef, ainsi que les herbes mortes reprenent nouvelle vigueur, mais qu’ils sont condamnez a perdition eternelle. — Fr. When he says of God, that he sits exalted for evermore, some understand him to mean, that God holds the power and office of governing the world, and that we may be certain nothing can happen by chance when such a righteous governor and judge administers the affairs of the world. Various other meanings have been suggested. But it seems to me that the Psalmist compares the stability of God’s throne with the fluctuating and changeable character of this world, reminding us that we must not judge of Him by what we see in the world, where there is nothing of a fixed and enduring nature. God looks down undisturbed from the altitude of heaven upon all the changes of this earthly scene, which neither affect nor have any relation to him. And this the Psalmist brings forward with another view than simply to teach us to distinguish God from his creatures, and put due honor upon his majesty; he would have us learn in our contemplations upon the wonderful and mysterious providence of God, to lift our conceptions above ourselves and this world, since it is only a dark and confused view which our earthly minds can take up. It is with the purpose of leading us into a proper discovery of the Divine judgments which are not seen in the world, that the Psalmist, in making mention of the majesty of God, would remind us, that he does not work according to our ideas, but in a manner corresponding to his own eternal being. We, short-lived creatures as we are, often thwarted in our attempts, embarrassed and interrupted by many intervening difficulties, and too glad to embrace the first opportunity which offers, are accustomed to advance with precipitation; but we are taught here to lift our eyes unto that eternal and unchangeable throne on which God sits, and in wisdom defers the execution of his judgments. The words accordingly convey more than a simple commendation of the glorious being of God; they are meant to help our faith, and tell us that, although his people may sigh under many an anxious apprehension, God himself, the guardian of their safety, reigns on high, and shields them with his everlasting power.
9 For, lo! thine enemies, O Jehovah! From what was already said in the verse preceding, the Psalmist concludes it to be impossible that God should not overthrow his enemies. This, as I have already observed, clearly shows that it was his design to establish our faith under the strong temptations to which it is subjected, and, more especially, to remove that offense out of the way, which has disturbed the minds of many, and led them astray; — we refer to the prosperity of the wicked, and its effect in attaching a certain perplexity to the judgments of God. As our faith is never called to a more sharp and arduous trial than upon this point, the Psalmist delivers the truth, which he announces with much force of expression, using both exclamations and repetition. First, he declares the destruction of God’s enemies to be as certain as if it had already taken place, and he had witnessed it with his own eyes; then he repeats his assertion: and from all this we may see how much he had benefited by glancing with the eye of faith beyond this world to the throne of God in the heavens. When staggered in our own faith at any time by the prosperity of the wicked, we should learn by his example to rise in our contemplations to a God in heaven, and the conviction will immediately follow in our minds that his enemies cannot long continue to triumph. The Psalmist tells us who they are that are God’s enemies. God hates none without a cause; nay, so far as men are the workmanship of his hand, he embraces them in his fatherly love. But as nothing is more opposed to his nature than sin, he proclaims irreconcilable war with the wicked. It contributes in no small degree to the comfort of the Lord’s people, to know that the reason why the wicked are destroyed is, their being necessarily the objects of God’s hatred, so that he can no more fail to punish them than deny himself. 595595 “Qu’il faut necessairement qu’ils soyent hays de Dieu, lequel ne se peut renoncer soy mesme.”
The Psalmist, shortly afterwards, shows that he intended this to be a ground of comfort and hope under all cares, griefs, anxieties, and embarrassments. He speaks under the figure of oil of enjoying Divine blessings, and by green or fresh oil is meant, such as has not become corrupted, or unfit for use by age. It is noticeable that he appropriates, and improves for his own individual comfort, that grace of God which is extended to all the Lord’s people without exception; and would teach us by this that mere general doctrine is a cold and unsatisfactory thing, and that each of us should improve it particularly for himself, in the persuasion of our belonging to the number of God’s children. In one word, the Psalmist promises himself the protection of God, under whatever persecutions he should endure from his enemies, whether they were secret, or more open and violent, that he may encourage himself to persevere with indefatigable spirit in the world’s conflict. We may judge from this how absurd is the opinion of the Rabbin, who conjectured that Adam was the author of this psalm 596596 These Rabbins say that Adam composed it immediately after the creation before the Sabbath. The Chaldee paraphrase entitles the psalm, “A hymn or song which the first man spoke concerning the Sabbath-day.” But had it been a composition of Adam’s, one would think it should have been placed at the head of this collection of psalms. Besides, there were no musical instruments at that time for this psalm to be sung upon, (see verse 3;) for Tubal was the father of them that handle the harp and organ; nor, as Calvin observes, had Adam numerous enemies and wicked men who rose up against him, to which reference is made in verses 7, 9, 11. We may therefore justly regard the Jewish tradition, which ascribes the composition of this psalm to Adam, as fabulous, having no other foundation but the invention and fancy of some of their Rabbins. — as if it were credible that his posterity should have set themselves up in rebellion against him.
12 The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree. He now passes to the consideration of another general truth, That though God may exercise his people with many trials, subject them to hardships, and visit them with privations, he will eventually show that he had not forgotten them. We need not be surprised that he insists so explicitly and carefully upon this point, as nothing is more difficult than for the saints of God to entertain expectations of being raised up and delivered when they have been reduced almost to the state of the
dead, and it does not appear how they can live. Some think the cedar is mentioned from the fragrancy of its smell, and the palm for the sweetness of its fruit; but this is too subtile a meaning to attach to the words. The sense seems simply, that though the righteous may appear for a time to be withered, or to have been cut down, they will again spring up with renewed vigor, and flourish as well and as fair in the Church of God as the stateliest trees upon Lebanon. The expression which is employed — planted in the house of the Lord — gives the reason of their vigorous
growth; nor is it meant that they have merely a place there, (which can be said even of hypocrites,) but that they are firmly fixed, and deeply rooted in it, so as to be united to God. The Psalmist speaks of the courts of the Lord, because none but the priests were allowed to enter the holy place;
the people worshipped in the court. By those who are planted in the Church he means such as are united to God in real and sincere attachment, and insinuates that their prosperity cannot be of a changeable and fluctuating nature, because it is not founded upon anything that is in the world. Nor indeed can we doubt that whatever has its root, and is founded in the sanctuary, must continue
to flourish and partake of a life which is spiritual and everlasting. It is in this sense that he speaks of their still budding forth, and being fat, even in old age, when the natural sap and juices are generally dried up. The language amounts to saying that they are exempt from the ordinary lot of
men, and have a life which is taken from under the common law of nature.
“They shall still bring forth fruit in old age. Being thus planted and watered, they shall not only bring forth the fruits of righteousness, but shall continue and go on to do so, and even when they are grown old; contrary to all other trees, which, when old, cease bearing fruit; but so do not the righteous; grace is often in the greatest vigor when nature is decayed; witness Abraham, Job, David, Zechariah, and Elisabeth, and good
old Simeon, who went to the grave like shocks of corn fully ripe.” — Dr Gill.
It is thus that Jacob, speaking of the great renovation which should take place in the Church, mentions, that at that happy period he who was an hundred years old should be a child, meaning that, though old age naturally tends to death, and one who has lived a hundred years is upon the very borders of it, yet in the kingdom of Christ; a man would be reckoned as being merely in his childhood, and starting in life, who entered upon a new century. This could only be verified in the sense, that after death we have another existence in heaven.
15. That they may show that Jehovah is upright. It is evident from this verse that the great object of the Psalmist is, to allay that disquietude of mind which we are apt to feel under the disorder which reigns apparently in the affairs of this world; and to make us cherish the expectation, (under all that may seem severe and trying in our lot, and though the wicked are in wealth and power, flourish, and abound in places and distinctions,) that God will bring light and order eventually out of confusion. That they may show, it is said particularly, that the Lord is upright; for through the influence of our corruption we are apt to conclude, when things do not proceed as we would wish in the world, that God is chargeable not only with neglect but with unrighteousness, in abandoning his people, and tolerating the commission of sin. When God displays his justice in proceeding to execute vengeance upon the wicked, it will be seen at once, that any prosperity which they enjoyed was but the forerunner of a worse destruction in reserve for them. The Psalmist, in calling God his rock, shows a second time that he reckoned himself amongst the number of those in whom God would illustrate his justice by extending towards them his protection.