1. Praise waiteth1 for thee, O Lord! in Zion; and unto thee shall the vow be performed. 2. O thou that hearest prayer! unto thee shall all flesh come. 3. Words of iniquity have prevailed against me: our transgressions thou shalt purge them away.2
With the verse which we have been now considering, that which follows stands closely connected, asserting that God hears the prayers of his people. This forms a reason why the vow should be paid to him, since God never disappoints his worshippers, but crowns their prayers with a favorable answer. Thus, what is stated last, is first in the natural order of consideration. The title here given to God carries with it a truth of great importance, That the answer of our prayers is secured by the fact, that in rejecting them he would in a certain sense deny his own nature. The Psalmist does not say, that God has heard prayer in this or that instance, but gives him the name of the hearer of prayer, as what constitutes an abiding part of his glory, so that he might as soon deny himself as shut his ear to our petitions. Could we only impress this upon our minds, that it is something peculiar to God, and inseparable from him, to hear prayer, it would inspire us with unfailing confidence. The power of helping us he can never want, so that nothing can stand in the way of a successful issue of our supplications. What follows in the verse is also well worthy of our attention, that
"The ear of the Lord is not heavy that it cannot hear, but our iniquities have separated betwixt us and him." -- Isaiah 59:1
David imputes it to his own sins and those of the people, that God, who was wont to be liberal in his help, and so gracious and kind in inviting their dependence upon him, had withdrawn for a time his divine countenance. First, he acknowledges his own personal guilt; afterwards, like Daniel 9:5, he joins the whole nation with himself. And this truth is introduced by the Psalmist with no design to damp confidence in prayer, but rather to remove an obstacle standing in the way of it, as none could draw near to God unless convinced that he would hear the unworthy. It is probable that the Lord's people were at theft time suffering under some token of the divine displeasure, since David seems here to struggle with some temptation of this kind. He evidently felt that there was a sure remedy at hand, for no sooner has he referred to the subject of guilt, than he recognises the prerogative of God to pardon and expiate it. The verse before us must be viewed in connection with the preceding, and as meaning, that though their iniquities merited their being cast out of God's sight, yet they would continue to pray, encouraged by his readiness to be reconciled to them. We learn from the passage that God will not be entreated of us, unless we humbly supplicate the pardon of our sins. On the other hand, we are to believe firmly in reconciliation with God being procured through gratuitous remission. Should he at any time withdraw his favor, and frown upon us, we must learn by David's example to rise to the hope of the expiation of our sins. The reason of his using the singular number, in the confession which he makes of sin, may be, that as king he represented the whole people, or that he intended, like Daniel, to exhort them each to an individual and particular examination and confession of his own guilt. We know how apt hypocrites are to hide their personal sin, under a formal acknowledgement of their share in the general transgression. But David, from no affectation of humility, but from deep inward conviction, begins with himself, and afterwards includes others in the same charge.
1 In our English version it is also waiteth, and in the margin is silent. "Waiteth as a servant, whose duty it is to do what thou commandest." -- Boothroyd. "The allusion in this verse is beautiful, when we remember that Eastern servants wait in silence, watching their lords, waiting for the signs of their will." -- Edwards.
2 The Hebrew word here rendered, "Thou shalt purge them away," is
3 In our English Bible it is, "Iniquities prevail against me;" and on the margin, "Words or matters of iniquity," etc. Calvin gives the same meaning which is naturally suggested by our English version, although from his translating the Hebrew text by words of iniquity, we would at first view be apt, to suppose that he would explain them as referring to the evil reports, the calumnies and slanders, which David's enemies propagated against him to ruin his reputation. Dr Adam Clarke understands the words in this sense, and gives a translation equivalent to Calvin's "Iniquitous words have prevailed against me," or, "The words of iniquity are strong against me." -- He thinks the reading of our English Bible "Is no just rendering of the original;" observing, that "this verse has been abused to favor Antinomian licentiousness;" and that "the true and correct translation of the former clause will prevent this." But we cannot see how the verse, as it stands in our English Bible, can with justice be viewed as tending to give encouragement to sin, it being no more than the confession of a repentant sinner, accompanied with hope in the mercy of God, founded on the glad tidings announced in the Gospel, that God is willing to pardon the most guilty who believe in his Son, and repent of their sins. The old Scottish, version of this verse --
"Iniquities, I must confess,
Prevail against me do:
And as for our transgressions.
Them purge away wilt thou,"
which this learned author terms "most execrable" and "abominable doggerel" -- and at hearing which he supposes David would feel chagrin, if such a feeling could affect the inhabitants of heaven -- is, it must be admitted, ill expressed, feeble, and easily susceptible of an Antinomian sense. But not so, we think, the revised version, now in very general use in Scotland, which, by the alteration of a single word in the beginning of the third line, has made the verse at the same time more correct and more nervous: --
"But as for our transgressions,
Them purge away shalt thou:"
thus implying at once a deep sense of the evil of sin, and a confident reliance on the forgiving mercy of God -- two subjects on which it is of the highest importance for us to entertain just views in drawing near to God in prayer.
Dr Morrison gives the following rendering: --
"Our iniquities prevail against us;
But thou art he who blotteth out our transgressions."
Horsley's version is: --
"The account of iniquities is too great for me:
Thou shalt expiate our crimes."