12. Strong bulls have encompassed me; the bulls of Bashan have beset me round. 13. They have opened their mouth against me, as a ravening and a roaring lion. 14. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are disjointed: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. 15. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me to the dust of death. 16. For dogs have encompassed me; the assembly of the wicked have surrounded me: they have pierced my hands and my feet.
12. Strong bulls have encompassed me. The Psalmist now complains of the cruelty and barbarous rage of his enemies; and he compares them first to bulls, secondly to lions, and thirdly to dogs. When the anger of bulls is kindled, we know how fierce and terrible they are. The lion, also, is a cruel beast, and dreadful to mankind. And the eager and fierce boldness with which dogs, when once they are irritated, rush upon a man to do him injury, is well known. In short, David's enemies were so blood-thirsty and cruel, that they more resembled wild beasts than men. He calls them not simply bulls, but strong bulls. Instead of rendering the original word Mybr, rabbim, strong, as we have done, some would render it many:with which I cannot agree. David, it is true, was assailed by great hosts of enemies; but it appears, from the second clause of the verse, that what is here described is their strength, and not their number. He there terms them the bulls of Bashan; meaning by that expression, well-fed bulls, and, consequently, large and strong:for we know that the hill of Bashan was distinguished for rich and fat pastures.1
14. I am poured out like water. Hitherto he has informed us that being surrounded by wild beasts, he was not far from death, as if he had been at the point of being devoured every moment. He now bewails, in addition to this, his inward distress; from which we learn that he was not stupid or insensible in dangers. It could have been no ordinary fear which made him almost pine away, by which his bones were disjointed, and his heart poured out like water. We see, then, that David was not buffeted with the waves of affliction like a rock which cannot be moved, but was agitated within by sore troubles and temptations, which, through the infirmity of the flesh, he would never have been able to sustain had he not been aided by the power of the Spirit of God. How these sufferings are applicable to Christ I have informed you a little before. Being a real man, he was truly subject to the infirmities of our flesh, only without the taint of sin. The perfect purity of his nature did not extinguish the human affections; it only regulated them, that they might not become sinful through excess. The greatness of his griefs, therefore, could not so weaken him as to prevent him, even in the midst of his most excruciating sufferings, from submitting himself to the will of God, with a composed and peaceful mind. Now, although this is not the case with respect to us, who have within us turbulent and disorderly affections, and who never can keep them under such restraint as not to be driven hither and thither by their impetuosity, yet, after the example of David, we ought to take courage; and when, through our infirmity, we are, as it were, almost lifeless, we should direct our groanings to God, beseeching him that he would be graciously pleased to restore us to strength and vigor.2
15. My strength is dried up. He means the vigor which is imparted to us by the radical moisture, as physicians call it. What he adds in the next clause, My tongue cleaveth to my jaws, is of the same import. We know that excessive grief not only consumes the vital spirits, but also dries up almost all the moisture which is in our bodies. He next declares, that in consequence of this, he was adjudged or devoted to the grave:Thou hast brought me to the dust of death. By this he intimates, that all hope of life was taken from him; and in this sense Paul also says, (2 Corinthians 1:9,) that "he had received the sentence of death in himself." But David here speaks of himself in hyperbolical language, and he does this in order to lead us beyond himself to Christ. The dreadful encounter of our Redeemer with death, by which there was forced from his body blood instead of sweat; his descent into hell, by which he tasted of the wrath of God which was due to sinners; and, in short, his emptying himself, could not be adequately expressed by any of the ordinary forms of speech. Moreover, David speaks of death as those who are in trouble are accustomed to speak of it, who, struck with fear, can think of nothing but of their being reduced to dust and to destruction. Whenever the minds of the saints are surrounded and oppressed with this darkness, there is always some unbelief mixed with their exercise, which prevents them from all at once emerging from it to the light of a new life. But in Christ these two things were wonderfully conjoined, namely, terror, proceeding from a sense of the curse of God; and patience, arising from faith, which tranquillised all the mental emotions, so that they continued in complete and willing subjection to the authority of God. With respect to ourselves, who are not endued with the like power, if at any time, upon beholding nothing but destruction near us, we are for a season greatly dismayed, we should endeavor by degrees to recover courage, and to elevate ourselves to the hope which quickens the dead.
16. They have pierced my hands and my feet. The original word, which we have translated they have pierced, is yrak, caari, which literally rendered is, like a lion. As all the Hebrew Bibles at this day, without exception, have this reading, I would have had great hesitation in departing from a reading which they all support, were it not that the scope of the discourse compels me to do so, and were there not strong grounds for conjecturing that this passage has been fraudulently corrupted by the Jews. With respect to the Septuagint version, there is no doubt that the translators had read in the Hebrew text, wrak, caaru, that is the letter w, vau, where there is now the letter y, yod.3 The Jews prate much about the literal sense being purposely and deliberately overthrown, by our rendering the original word by they have pierced:but for this allegation there is no color of truth whatever. What need was there to trifle so presumptuously in a matter where it was altogether unnecessary? Very great suspicion of falsehood, however, attaches to them, seeing it is the uppermost desire of their hearts to despoil the crucified Jesus of his escutcheons, and to divest him of his character as the Messiah and Redeemer. If we receive this reading as they would have us to do, the sense will be enveloped in marvellous obscurity. In the first place, it will be a defective form of expression, and to complete it, they say it is necessary to supply the verb to surround or to beset. But what do they mean by besetting the hands and the feet? Besetting belongs no more to these parts of the human body than to the whole man. The absurdity of this argument being discovered, they have recourse to the most ridiculous old wives' fables, according to their usual way, saying, that the lion, when he meets any man in his road, makes a circle with his tail before rushing upon his prey:from which it is abundantly evident that they are at a loss for arguments to support their view.
Again, since David, in the preceding verse, has used the similitude of a lion, the repetition of it in this verse would be superfluous. I forbear insisting upon what some of our expositors have observed, namely, that this noun, when it has prefixed to it the letter k, caph, which signifies as, the word denoting similitude, has commonly other points than those which are employed in this passage. My object, however, is not here to labor to convince the Jews who in controversy are in the highest degree obstinate and opinionative. I only intend briefly to show how wickedly they endeavor to perplex Christians on account of the different reading which occurs in this place. When they object, that by the appointment of the law no man was fastened with nails to a cross, they betray in this their gross ignorance of history, since it is certain that the Romans introduced many of their own customs and manners into the provin ces which they had conquered. If they object that David was never nailed to a cross, the answer is easy, namely, that in bewailing his condition, he has made use of a similitude, declaring that he was not less afflicted by his enemies than the man who is suspended on a cross, having his hands and feet pierced through with nails. We will meet a little after with more of the same kind of metaphors.