Psalm 17:3-4

3. Thou hast proved my heart; thou hast visited it by night; thou hast examined it, thou shalt find nothing; my thoughts shall not pass beyond my mouth.1 4. As for the works of men, by the word of thy lips I have taken heed of [or watched] the ways of the destroyer.2


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.3 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 The time when he declares God to have visited him is during the night, because, when a man is withdrawn from the presence of his fellow-creatures, he sees more clearly his sins, which otherwise would be hidden from his view; just as, on the contrary, the sight of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.4 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.5 The word hmz, 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 b, 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.6 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.7 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,8 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.9 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,10 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,11 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,12 he admonishes us to "give place unto wrath," (Romans 12:19.)

1 Great difference of opinion has prevailed among critics, as to the rendering and interpretation of this and the following verse. The third verse is rendered thus in Tyndale's Bible:"Thou hast proved and visited mine heart in the night seasons, thou hast tried me in the fire, and hast found no wickedness in me; for I utterly purposed that my mouth should not offend." Geddes reads the third clause of the verse "Thou hast smelted me, and found in me no dross;" and observes, that smelted is "a metaphor taken from the smelting of metals to purify them from extraneous matter." -- Geddes' New Translation of the Book of Psalms, with Notes. The last clause of the third verse is added to the first clause of the fourth verse, in the Septuagint, Vulgate, Syriac, and Arabic versions, and the reading is thus "My mouth has not transgressed as to the evil designs of other men; that is, I have not countenanced or approved of them by word."

2 "Du violent." -- Fr. "Of the violent."

3 "Le requerant d'en vouloir estre le juge." -- Fr.

4 "Il ne sera trouve desguisement ne fraude quelconque en mon coeur." -- Fr.

5 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."

6 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 Pyrp, pharits, being derived from Prp, pharats, to break down, or break through. It is referred by Calvin to the violent and wicked conduct of his enemies towards him.

7 "De troubler le repos et la tranquillite des autres." -- Fr.

8 "Afin de n'estre point corrompu par mauvals exemples." -- Fr.

9 "or have kept me from the paths, etc. or observed the paths, viz., so as to avoid them." -- Poole's Annotations.

10 "Car mesme ceux qui sont de nature enclins a debonnairete." -- Fr.

11 "De real faire a nos prochains." -- Fr.

12 "Qu'il prendra en main la vengence contre ceux qui nous outragent." -- Fr.