1. O Jehovah! thou hast been favorable to thy land: thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob. 2. Thou hast taken away the iniquity1 of thy people: thou hast covered all their sins. Selah. 3. Thou hast turned away all thy anger: thou hast drawn back the fury of thy indignation. 4. Turn us, O God of our salvation! and cause thy anger against us to cease.
1. O Jehovah! thou hast been favorable to thy land. Those who translate these words in the future tense, in my opinion, mar their meaning. This psalm, it is probable, was endited to be sung by the people when they were persecuted by the cruel tyranny of Antiochus; and from the deliverance wrought for them in the past, they were encouraged to expect in the future, fresh and continued tokens of the divine favor, -- God having thereby testified, that their sins, however numerous and aggravated, could not efface from his memory the remembrance of his covenant, so as to render him inexorable towards the children of Abraham, and deaf to their prayers.2 Had they not previously experienced such remarkable proofs of the divine goodness, they must necessarily have been overwhelmed with the load of their present afflictions, especially when so long protracted. The cause of their deliverance from captivity they attribute to the free love with which God had embraced the land which he had chosen for himself. Whence it follows, that the course of his favor was unintermitted; and the faithful also were inspired with confidence in prayer, by the reflection that, mindful of his choice, he had shown himself merciful to his own land. We have elsewhere had occasion to remark, that nothing contributes more effectually to encourage us to come to the throne of grace, than the remembrance of God's former benefits. Our faith would immediately succumb under adversity, and sorrow would choke our hearts, were we not taught to believe from the experience of the past, that he is inclined compassionately to hear the prayers of his servants, and always affords them succor when the exigencies of their circumstances require it; especially as there remains at all times the same reason for continuing his goodness. Thus the prophet happily applies to believers of his own day, the benefits which God in old time bestowed upon their fathers, because both they and their fathers were called to the hope of the same inheritance.
2. Thou hast taken away the iniquity of thy people. It was very natural for the faithful to feel alarmed and perplexed on account of their sins, and therefore the prophet removes all ground for overwhelming apprehension, by showing them, that God, in delivering his people, had given an irrefragable proof of free forgiveness. He had before traced this deliverance to the mere good pleasure and free grace of God as its source; but after it was wrought, the iniquities of the people having separated between them and their God, and estranged them from him, it was necessary that the remedy of pardon should be brought to their aid. In saying that their iniquities were taken away, he does not refer to the faithful being reformed and purged from their sins, in other words, to that work by which God, sanctifying them by the Spirit of regeneration, actually removes sin from them. What he intended to say he explains immediately after. The amount, in short, is, that God was reconciled to the Jews by not imputing their sins to them. When God is said to cover sins, the meaning is, that he buries them, so that they come not into judgment, as we have shown more at large on the 32nd psalm, at the beginning. When, therefore, he had punished the sins of his people by captivity, it being his will to restore them again to their own country, he removed the great impediment to this, by blotting out their transgressions; for deliverance from punishment depends upon the remission of sin. Thus we are furnished with an argument in confutation of that foolish conceit of the Sophists, which they set forth as some great mystery, That God retains the punishment although he forgive the fault; whereas God announces in every part of his word, that his object in pardoning is, that being pacified, he may at the same time mitigate the punishment. Of this we have an additional confirmation in the following verse, where we are informed, that God was mercifully inclined towards his people, that he might withdraw his hand from chastising them. What answer in any degree plausible can be given to this by the Sophists, who affirm that God would not be righteous did he not, after he had forgiven the fault, execute punishment according to the strict demands of his justice? The sequence of the pardon of sin is, that God by his blessing testifies that he is no longer displeased.
4. Turn us, O God of our salvation! The faithful now make a practical application to themselves, in their present circumstances, of what they had rehearsed before concerning God's paternal tenderness towards his people whom he had redeemed. And they attribute to him, by whom they desire to be restored to their former state, the appellation, O God of our salvation! to encourage themselves, even in the most desperate circumstances, in the hope of being delivered by the power of God. Although to the eye of sense and reason there may be no apparent ground to hope favourably as to our condition, it becomes us to believe that our salvation rests secure in his hand, and that, whenever he pleases, he can easily and readily find the means of bringing salvation to us. God's anger being the cause and origin of all calamities, the faithful beseech him to remove it. This order demands our special attention; for so effeminate and faint-hearted in bearing adversity are we, that no sooner does God begin to smite us with his little finger, than we entreat him, with groaning and lamentable cries, to spare us. But we forget to plead, what should chiefly engage our thoughts, that he would deliver us from guilt and condemnation; and we forget this because we are reluctant to descend into our own hearts and to examine ourselves.
1 "Ne faire qu'il ne fust enclin et pitie envers les enfans d'Abraham pour exaucer leurs prieres." -- Fr.
2 "Ou, si est ce que." -- Fr. marg. "Or, Yet."