Psalm 17:13-14

13. Arise, O Jehovah, prevent [or go before] his face, lay him prostrate on the ground;1 deliver my soul from the ungodly man by thy sword:14. From men by thy hand, O Jehovah, from men who are of long duration, [or who are from an age,2] whose portion is in life, whose belly thou fillest with thy secret goods; their children are filled with them, and they leave the rest to their babes.


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.3 Some expositors read the passage thus, From the ungodly man, who is thy sword,4 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,5) 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 dlx, 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 outrages6 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 Nm, 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.7 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.

1 The LXX. have happily expressed the exact import of the Hebrew word, 'Upov kelison aujtouv' 'Make him sink upon his knees.' "- Horsley. Street reads, "Make them bend." Cocceius renders it, "Incurva ilium," "Bend him," and explains the phrase thus:-- "Fac, ut se demittat," etc.; i.e. "Make him to cast himself down, bend his stature, which is erect and inflexible like iron; that is to say, take away from him the power and the inclination of doing mischief."

2 "A seculo." -- Lat. "Dds un monde, ou un siecle." -- Fr. marg. "From a world, or an age."

3 "Qui sont molestez par ces malheureux." -- Fr.

4 "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."

5 "Ou siecle car il y a ainsi mot a mot." -- Fr.

6 "L'audace et les outrages." -- Fr.

7 "Comme s'il les nourissok en son giron, les tenant tendrement et mignardant plus que tout le reste." -- Fr.