The prophet implores the divine aid against the enemies of the Church, and, as an argument for obtaining this the more easily, he enumerates the many nations which had conspired together for the express purpose of exterminating the people of Israel, and thereby extinguishing the very name of the Church of God. To stir up himself and others to greater earnestness and confidence in prayer, he shows, by many examples, how mightily God had been wont to succor his servants.
A Song or Psalm of Asaph.
1. O God! keep not silence with thyself; hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God! 2. For, behold! Thy enemies are tumultuous: and those who hate thee have lifted up the head. 3. They have formed a crafty design against thy people, and have consulted against thy hidden ones. 4. They have said, Come and let us cut them off from being a nation; and let the name of Israel be no more remembered.
1. O God! hold not thy peace. It is very generally agreed among commentators, that this psalm was composed during the reign of king Jehoshaphat; and in this opinion I readily concur. That godly king, as is well known, had to engage in dreadful wars against multiplied hosts of enemies. Although the Ammonites and Moabites were the originators of the principal war in which he was engaged, yet they mustered forces not only from Syria, but also from distant countries, and the troops thus brought together well nigh overwhelmed Judea with their multitude. It would then appear, from the long list of enemies, here enumerated, who had conspired together to destroy the people of God, that the conjecture is well-founded which refers the composition of this psalm to that occasion;1 and sacred history informs us, that one of the Levites, under the influence of the Spirit of prophecy, gave the king assurance of victory,2 and that the Levites sang before the Lord. In the midst of so great dangers, the whole nation, as well as the holy king, must have been involved in the deepest distress; and, accordingly, we have here a prayer full of earnestness and solicitude. These feelings prompted the repetition of the words which occur in the very opening of the psalm, Hold not thy peace, Keep not silence, be not still. By this, the faithful would intimate, that if God intended to succor them, it behoved him to make haste, else the opportunity for doing so would be lost. It is unquestionably our duty to wait patiently when God at any time delays his help; but, in condescension to our infirmity, he permits us to supplicate him to make haste. What I have rendered, keep not silence with thyself, is literally keep not silence to thyself, which some translate by the paraphrase, Hold not thy peace in thy own cause, -- an exposition which is too refined to be more particularly noticed. This form of expression is equivalent to saying, Hold not thyself in. Perhaps the particle is here superfluous, as it is in many other places.
2. For, behold! thy enemies are tumultuous. As an argument for enforcing the prayer of the preceding verse, it is affirmed that the faithful are oppressed both by the impetuous violence and the crafty policy of their enemies, which, to all human appearance, rendered their escape from death utterly hopeless. When it is said that they are tumultuous and lift up the head, the meaning is, that relying upon their own power, they behave themselves insolently and proudly. By this conduct on the part of their enemies, the minds of the people of God are greatly depressed, and the only way in which they can obtain relief, is by making their moan to Him whose continual work it is to repress the proud. When, therefore, the saints implore his aid, it is their ordinary course to lay before him the perverseness of their enemies. It is worthy of notice, that those who molest the Church are called the enemies of God.
It affords us no small ground of confidence that those who are our enemies are also God's enemies. This is one of the fruits of his free and gracious covenant, in which he has promised to be an enemy to all our enemies, -- a promise for which there is good cause, when it is considered that the welfare of his people, whom he has taken under his protection, cannot be assailed without an injury being, at the same the done to his own majesty. Meanwhile, let us live at peace with all men, as much as in us lies, and let us endeavor to practice uprightness in our whole deportment, that we may be able confidently to appeal to God, that when we suffer at the hands of men, we suffer wrongfully. The pride and violent assaults of our enemies may be combined with craftiness. But when such is the case, it becomes us to yield to God the honor which belongs to him, by resting satisfied that He can succor us; for to break the proud who foam out their rage, and to take the crafty in their own craftiness, is work which He has been accustomed to perform in all ages. To keep us from thinking that we are abandoned to the snares and traps of our enemies, the prophet here seasonably sets before us a consideration calculated to administer the highest consolation and hope, when he calls us God's hidden ones. This expression is understood by some as meaning that the aid and protection which God extends to us, is not apparent to the eye of sense and reason; just as it is said elsewhere of the life of the people of God, that it is hid, (Colossians 3:3.) But this interpretation is too forced, and altogether inconsistent both with the scope of the passage and the natural construction of the words. The design of them is simply to teach that we are hidden under the shadow of God's wings; for although to outward appearance we lie open, and are exposed to the will of the wicked and the proud, we are preserved by the hidden power of God.3 Accordingly, it is said in another Psalm, (27:5,)
"In the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me." (Psalm 27:5)
It is, however, at the same time to be observed, that none are hid under the keeping and protection of God but those who, renouncing all dependence on their own strength, betake themselves with fear and trembling to Him. Such as under the influence of a flattering belief in the sufficiency of their own strength to resist, boldly enter the conflict, and, as if devoid of all fear, wax wanton, will ultimately suffer the consequences which result from inadequate resources.4 We will then best consult our own safety by taking shelter under the shadow of the Almighty, and, conscious of our own weakness, committing our salvation to him, casting it, so to speak, into his bosom.
4. They have said, Come and let us cut them off from being a nation. The wickedness of these hostile powers is aggravated from the circumstance, that it was their determined purpose utterly to exterminate the Church. This may be restricted to the Ammonites and Moabites, who were as bellows to blow up the flame in the rest. But the Hagarenes, the Syrians, and the other nations, being by their instigation affected with no less hatred and fury against the people of God, for whose destruction they had taken up arms, we may justly consider this vaunting language as uttered by the whole of the combined host; for having entered into a mutual compact they rushed forward with rival eagerness, and encouraged one another to destroy the kingdom of Judah. The prime agent in exciting such cruel hatred was doubtless Satan, who has all along from the beginning been exerting himself to extinguish the Church of God, and who, for this purpose, has never ceased to stir up his own children to outrage. The phrase, to cut them off from being a nation, signifies to exterminate them root and branch, and thus to put an end to them as a nation or people. That this is the meaning is more clearly evinced from the second clause of the verse, Let the name of Israel be no more remembered. The compassion of God would in no small degree be excited by the circumstance that this war was not undertaken, as wars commonly have been, to bring them, when conquered, under the power of their enemies; but the object which the cruelty of their enemies aimed at was their entire destruction. And what did this amount to but to an attempt to overthrow the decree of God on which the perpetual duration of the Church depends.
3 The Hebrew word translated thy hidden ones, primarily means a treasure, and is so taken in Psalm 17:14. Accordingly, it is here rendered by Mudge, and French and Skinner, "thy treasured ones :" that is, thy peculiar people: those whom thou hast hitherto protected and kept in perfect safety, as in a place of security and secrecy. The Septuagint reads, kata< tw~n aJgi>wn sou, "against thy saints." The word is also sometimes put for the sanctuary, as in Ezekiel 7:22. Some therefore think that the temple, and the treasures contained in it, are intended.
4 "Ils sentiront a la fin a leur grande honte, qu'ils estoyent desnuer de toute vertu." -- Fr. "Will at length find, to their great shame, that they were destitute of all power."