1. O God! give thy judgments to the king, and thy righteousness to the king's son. 2. He shall judge thy people in righteousness, and thy poor ones in judgment. 3. The mountains shall bring forth peace to the people, and the hills in righteousness.1 4. He shall judge the poor of the people; he shall save the children of the afflicted; and shall break in pieces the calumniator. 5. They shall fear thee with the sun; and generation of generations shall fear thee2 in the presence of the moon. 6. He shall descend as rain upon the mown grass; as the showers3 which water the earth.
1. O God! give thy judgments to the king.4 While David, to whom the promise had been made, at his death affectionately recommended to God his son, who was to succeed him in his kingdom, he doubtless endited to the Church a common form of prayer, that the faithful, convinced of the impossibility of being prosperous and happy, except under one head, should show all respect, and yield all obedience to this legitimate order of things, and also that from this typical kingdom they might be conducted to Christ. In short, this is a prayer that God would furnish the king whom he had chosen with the spirit of uprightness and wisdom. By the terms righteousness and judgment, the Psalmist means a due and well-regulated administration of government, which he opposes to the tyrannical and unbridled license of heathen kings, who, despising God, rule according to the dictates of their own will; and thus the holy king of Israel, who was anointed to his office by divine appointment, is distinguished from other earthly kings. From the words we learn by the way, that no government in the world can be rightly managed but under the conduct of God, and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If kings possessed in themselves resources sufficiently ample, it would have been to no purpose for David to have sought by prayer from another, that with which they were of themselves already provided. But in requesting that the righteousness and judgment of God may be given to kings, he reminds them that none are fit for occupying that exalted station, except in so far as they are formed for it by the hand of God. Accordingly, in the Proverbs of Solomon, (Proverbs 8:15,) Wisdom proclaims that kings reign by her. Nor is this to be wondered at, when we consider that civil government is so excellent an institution, that God would have us to acknowledge him as its author, and claims to himself the whole praise of it. But it is proper for us to descend from the general to the particular; for since it is the peculiar work of God to set up and to maintain a rightful government in the world, it was much more necessary for him to communicate the special grace of his Spirit for the maintenance and preservation of that sacred kingdom which he had chosen in preference to all others. By the king's son David no doubt means his successors. At the same time, he has an eye to this promise:
"Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne,"
But no such stability as is indicated in that passage is to be found in the successors of David, till we come to Christ. We know that after the death of Solomon, the dignity of the kingdom decayed, and from that time its wealth became impaired, until, by the carrying of the people into captivity, and the ignominious death inflicted upon their king, the kingdom was involved in total ruin. And even after their return from Babylon, their restoration was not such as to inspire them with any great hope, until at length Christ sprung forth from the withered stock of Jesse. He therefore holds the first rank among the children of David.
2. He shall judge thy people in righteousness. Some read this in the form of a wish -- O that he may judge, etc. Others retain the future tense; and thus it is a prophecy. But we will come nearer the correct interpretation by understanding something intermediate, as implied. All that is afterwards spoken, concerning the king, flows from the supposition, that the blessing prayed for in the first verse is conferred upon him -- from the supposition that he is adorned with righteousness and judgment. The prayer, then, should be explained thus: Govern our king, O God! that he may judge. Or in this way, When thou shalt have bestowed upon the king thy righteousness, then he will judge uprightly. To govern a nation well, is an endowment far too excellent to grow out of the earth; but the spiritual government of Christ, by which all things are restored to perfect order, ought much more to be considered a gift of heaven. In the first clause of the verse, David speaks of the whole people in general. In the second clause, he expressly mentions the poor, who, on account of their poverty and weakness, have need of the help of others, and for whose sake kings are armed with the sword to grant them redress when unjustly oppressed. Hence, also, proceeds peace, of which mention is made in the third verse. The term peace being employed among the Hebrews to denote not only rest and tranquillity, but also prosperity, David teaches us that the people would enjoy prosperity and happiness, when the affairs of the nation were administered according to the principles of righteousness. The bringing forth of peace is a figurative expression taken from the fertility of the earth. 5And when it is said that the mountains and hills shall bring forth peace, 6the meaning is, that no corner would be found in the country in which it did not prevail, not even the most unpromising parts, indicated by the mountains, which are commonly barren, or at least do not produce so great an abundance of fruits as the valleys. Besides, both the word peace and the word righteousness are connected with each clause of the verse, and must be twice repeated, 7the idea intended to be conveyed being, that peace by righteousness 8should be diffused through every part of the world. Some read simply righteousness, instead of In righteousness, supposing the letter
4. He shall judge the poor of the people. The poet continues his description of the end and fruit of a righteous government, and unfolds at greater length what he had briefly touched upon concerning the afflicted among the people. But it is a truth which ought to be borne in mind, that kings can keep themselves within the bounds of justice and equity only by the grace of God; for when they are not governed by the Spirit of righteousness proceeding from heaven, their government is converted into a system of tyranny and robbery. As God had promised to extend his care to the poor and afflicted among his people, David, as an argument to enforce the prayer which he presents in behalf of the king, shows that the granting of it will tend to the comfort of the poor. God is indeed no respecter of persons; but it is not without cause that God takes a more special care of the poor than of others, since they are most exposed to injuries and violence. Let laws and the administration of justice be taken away, and the consequence will be, that the more powerful a man is, he will be the more able to oppress his poor brethren. David, therefore, particularly mentions that the king will be the defender of those who can only be safe under the protection of the magistrate, and declares that he will be their avenger when they are made the victims of injustice and wrong. The phrase, The children of the afflicted, is put for the afflicted, an idiom quite common in Hebrew, and a similar form of expression is sometimes used by the Greeks, as when they say uiJouv ijatrwn, the sons of physicians, for physicians. 10But as the king cannot discharge the duty of succouring and defending the poor which David imposes upon him, unless he curb the wicked by authority and the power of the sword, it is very justly added in the end of the verse, that when righteousness reigns, oppressors or extortioners will be broken in pieces. It would be foolish to wait till they should give place of their own accord. They must be repressed by the sword, that their audacity and wickedness may be prevented from proceeding to greater lengths. It is therefore requisite for a king to be a man of wisdom, and resolutely prepared effectually to restrain the violent and injurious, that the rights of the meek and orderly may be preserved unimpaired. Thus none will be fit for governing a people but he who has learned to be rigorous when the case requires. Licentiousness must necessarily prevail under an effeminate and inactive sovereign, or even under one who is of a disposition too gentle and forbearing. There is much truth in the old saying, that it is worse to live under a prince through whose lenity everything is lawful, than under a tyrant where there is no liberty at all.
5. They shall fear thee with the sun. If this is read as an apostrophe, or change of person, it may be properly and without violence understood of the king; implying, that the ornaments or distinctions which chiefly secure to a sovereign reverence from his subjects are his impartially securing to every man the possession of his own rights, and his manifesting a spirit of humanity ready at all times to succor the poor and miserable, as well as a spirit determined rigorously to subdue the audacity of the wicked. But it will be more appropriate, without changing the person, to explain it of God himself. 11The preservation of mutual equity among men is an inestimable blessing; but the service of God is well worthy of being preferred even to this. David, therefore, very properly commends to us the blessed fruits of a holy and righteous government, by telling us that it will draw in its train true religion and the fear of God. And Paul, when enjoining us in 1 Timothy 2:2, to pray for kings, expressly mentions what we ought to have in view in our prayers, which is, "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." As there is no small danger, were civil government overthrown, of religion being destroyed, and the worship of God annihilated, David beseeches God to have respect to his own name and glory in preserving the king. By this argument he at once reminds kings of their duty, and stirs up the people to prayer; for we cannot be better employed than in directing all our desires and prayers to the advancement of the service and honor of God. When we come to Christ, this is far more truly applicable to him, true religion being established in his kingdom and nowhere else. And certainly David, in describing the worship or service of God as continuing to the end of the world, intimates by the way that he ascends in thought to that everlasting kingdom which God had promised: They shall fear thee with the sun; and generation of generations shall fear thee in the presence of the moon.12
6. He shall descend as the rain upon the mown grass. This comparison may seem at first sight to be somewhat harsh; but it elegantly and appositely expresses the great advantage which is derived by all from the good and equitable constitution of a kingdom. Meadows, we know, are cut in the beginning of summer when the heat prevails; and did not the earth imbibe new moisture by the falling rain, even the very roots of the herbage would wither by reason of the barren and parched state of the soil. David, therefore, teaches us that as God defends the earth from the heat of the sun by watering it, so he in like manner provides for the welfare of his Church, and defends it under the government of the king. But this prediction has received its highest fulfillment in Christ, who, by distilling upon the Church his secret grace, renders her fruitful.
1 In the Septuagint, in righteousness is connected with the following verse -- In righteousness he shall judge the poor of the people," Dr Adam Clarke considers this to be the true division.
2 "Te craindra," "shall fear thee," is a supplement in the French version. There is no supplement in the Latin version.
3 "Comme les pluyes drues et longues." -- Fr. "As the plenteous and prolonged showers."
4 "In other places, those events which God himself brings to pass in defending the righteous, and in punishing the wicked, are called his judgments, as in Psalm 36:7; but the statutes promulgated by God for the regulation of human conduct are also styled his judgments. In this sense, the judgments and laws of God may be considered as synonymous terms, Psalm 119. 20, 30, 39, 52, 75. The clause is justly explained by Jarchi: 'Knowledge of the judgments -- to wit, of the particular rules of right -- which thou hast commanded in the law.' The explication given by Kimchi is suitable also: 'That he may not err in giving forth sentences, give him knowledge and understanding, that he may judge with judgment and justice.'" -- Rosenmüller on the Messianic Psalms, Biblical Cabinet, volume 32, pp. 232, 233.
6 Dathe and Boothroyd take another view. According to them, the allusion is to the custom which, in ancient times, prevailed in the East, of announcing good or bad news from the tops of mountains, or other eminences; by means of which, acts of justice were speedily communicated to the remotest part of the country. The same image is used in Isaiah 40:9.
7 That is, we are to read thus: "The mountains shall bring forth peace to the people in righteousness; and the hills shall bring forth peace to the people in righteousness."
8 "Peace by righteousness." Calvin considers the Psalmist as representing peace to be the native fruit or effect of righteousness. Such also is the interpretation of Rosenmüller: "'And the hills shall bring forth peace with justice, or because of justice.' Justice and peace are joined together, as cause and effect. When iniquity or injustice prevails, general misery is the consequence; and, on the contrary, the prevalence of justice is followed by general felicity. The sense of the clause is, -- happiness shall reign throughout the land, for the people shall be governed with equity."
9 Rosenmüller, in like manner, objects to this reading. "Some expositors," says he, "consider the prefix
10 Many examples of this Hebraism might be quoted. In Ecclesiastes 10:17, "a son of nobles" is put for "a noble person;" in Psalm 18:45, children of the stranger, for strangers; and, in many passages, children, or sons of men, for men, simply considered.
11 "The poet in this clause addresses God; not the king, of whom he speaks always in the third person. The sense is, This king shall establish and preserve among his subjects the true religion, -- the uncorrupted worship of God. Michaelis, on this passage, justly remarks that this could not, without extreme flattery, be predicated of Solomon." -- Dathe.
12 "With the sun," and "in the presence of the moon," are Hebrew idioms, designating the eternity of the Messiah's kingdom. "'They shall venerate thee with the sun, and in presence of the moon;' that is, as long as the sun shines, and is succeeded by the moon, or while the sun and moon continue to give light, -- in a word, for ever. Compare verse seventh, where the same idea is expressed, only in a slightly different manner, -- until there be no moon. Psalm 89:37 -- 'His throne shall be as the sun before me, as the moon it shall be established for ever.' The word