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16

I hear, and I tremble within;

my lips quiver at the sound.

Rottenness enters into my bones,

and my steps tremble beneath me.

I wait quietly for the day of calamity

to come upon the people who attack us.

 

Trust and Joy in the Midst of Trouble

17

Though the fig tree does not blossom,

and no fruit is on the vines;

though the produce of the olive fails,

and the fields yield no food;

though the flock is cut off from the fold,

and there is no herd in the stalls,

18

yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

I will exult in the God of my salvation.

19

God, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,

and makes me tread upon the heights.

 

To the leader: with stringed instruments.


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Those interpreters are mistaken in my view, who connect the verb, “I have heard,” with the last verse, as though the Prophet had said, that he had conceived dread from those evidences of God’s power: for the Prophet had no occasion to fear in regarding God as armed with unexpected power for the salvation of his people; there was no reason for such a thing. Hence these things do not agree together. But he returns again to that dread which he had entertained on account of God’s voice in those terrific threatenings which we before referred to. We must always bear in mind the Prophet’s design—that his object was to humble the faithful, that they might suppliantly acknowledge to God their sins and solicit his forgiveness. His purpose also was to animate them with strong hope, that they might nevertheless look for deliverance. He had already said at the beginning, “Lord, I have heard thy voice; I feared.” He now repeats the same thing: for if he had spoken only of that terrific voice, the faithful might have been overwhelmed with despair; he therefore wished opportunely to prevent this evil, by interposing what might have comforted them. For this reason he recited these histories, by which God had proved that he was armed with invincible power to save his Church. Having done this, he applies his general doctrine to present circumstances, and says, “I have heard.” What had he heard? even those judgements with which God had determined to visit the contumacy of his people. Since, then, God had threatened his people with a horrible destruction, the Prophet says now, that he had heard and trembled, so that he had been confounded. He speaks in the singular number; but this was done, as we have said, because he represented the whole people, as was the case before (which escaped my notice) when he said, his enemies came like whirlwind to cast him down; for certainly he did not then speak of himself but of the ancient people. As, then, the Prophet here undertakes the cause of the whole Church, he speaks as though he were the collective body of the people: and so he says that he had heard; but the faithful speak here as with one mouth, that they had heard, and that their inside trembled

Some read, “I was dismayed, or I feared, and my inside trembled at his voice.” He takes קול, kul, voice, not for report, but, as it has been said, for threatening. The faithful, then, declare here, that they dreaded the voice of God, before he had executed his judgements, or before he inflicted the punishment which he had threatened. He says, quiver did my lips. The verb צלל, tsalel, means sometimes to tingle, and so some render it here, “Tingle did my lips;” but this is not suitable, and more tolerable is the rendering of others, “Palpitate did my lips.” The Hebrews say that what is meant is that motion in the lips which fear or trembling produces. I therefore render the words, “quiver did my lips;” as when one says in our language, Mes levres ont barbate; that is, when the whole body shakes with trembling, not only a noise is made by the clashing of the teeth, but an agitation is also observed in the lips.

Enter, he says, did rottenness into my bones and within myself I made a noise, (it is the verb רגז, regaz, again,) or I trembled. No doubt the Prophet describes here the dread, which could not have been otherwise than produced by the dreadful vengeance of God. It hence follows that he does not treat here of those miracles which were, on the contrary, calculated to afford an occasion of rejoicing both to the Prophet and to the whole of the chosen people; but that the vengeance of God, such as had been predicted, is described here.

He now adds, That I may rest in the day of affliction 6666     The word [אשר], which Calvin renders ut, “that,” has occasioned great trouble to critics. Marckius reads qui—“who,” “Who shall rest,” etc.; Henderson, “yet,” “Yet I shall have rest,” etc. But it is never found as an adversative. The construction of this line and the following is very difficult; and many have been the forms in which they have been rendered. The verb [נוח] means not only to rest from action or labor, but also to rest in the sense of remaining or continuing. See 2 Kings 2:15, and Isaiah 2:2. And were it taken in this latter sense here, there would be a consistency in the whole passage. The Prophet describes first the dread which seized him on hearing the report of God’s vengeance; and then in the two last lines he accounts for his consternation, because he should remain to witness this vengeance; and he proceeds in verse 17 to set forth the effects of it, and in verse 18 he states that he would still rejoice in the God of his salvation. The three verses may be thus rendered,—
   16. I heard, and tremble did my bowels;
At the voice my lips quivered;
Enter does rottenness into my bones,
And on my own account I tremble;
Because I shall remain to the day of distress,
To his coming up to the people, who shall invade me.

   17. For the fig-tree shall not shoot forth,
And no produce shall be on the vines;
Fail shall the fruit of the olive,
And the fields, none shall yield food;
Cut off from the fold shall be the sheep,
And no ox shall be in the stalls:

   18. But as for me, in Jehovah will I rejoice,
I will exult in the God of my salvation.

   “On my own account,” or for myself, [תחתי]: the preposition, [תחת], is often taken in this sense; See 2 Samuel 19:21, Proverbs 30:21. “Invade us” or assault us, or them, the people, [יגודנו]; for [נו] is either us or him, but in our language them, for so we speak of people. “And the fields, none,” etc. There are instances of [לא], as here, in which it may be rendered “none” and “nothing.” See Ezekiel 20:38, Job 6:21, 8:9. “In the God,” etc.; it may be rendered, “In my God, my Savior,” as it is in the Septuagint and the Vulgate.Ed.
There seems to be here an inconsistency—that the Prophet was affected with grief even to rottenness, that he trembled throughout his members with dread, and now that all this availed to produce rest. But we must inquire how rest is to be obtained through these trepidations, and dreads, and tremblings. We indeed know that the more hardened the wicked become against God, the more grievous ruin they ever procure for themselves. But there is no way of obtaining rest, except for a time we tremble within ourselves, that is, except God’s judgement awakens us, yea, and reduces us almost to nothing. Whosoever therefore securely slumbers, will be confounded in the day of affliction; but he who in time anticipates the wrath of God, and is touched with fear, as soon as he hears that God the judge is at hand, provides for himself the most secure rest in the day of affliction. We now then see, that the right way of seeking rest is set forth here by the Prophet, when he says, that he had been confounded, and that rottenness had entered into his bones that he could have no comfort, except he pined away as one half-dead: and the design of the Prophet, as I have already said, was to exhort the faithful to repentance. But we cannot truly and from the heart repent, until our sins become displeasing to us: and the hatred of sin proceeds from the fear of God, and that sorrow which Paul regards as the mother of repentance. (2 Corinthians 7:10.)

This exhortation is also very necessary for us in the present day. We see how inclined we are by nature to indifference; and when God brings before us our sins, and then sets before us his wrath, we are not moved; and when we entertain any fear, it soon vanishes. Let us, then, know that no rest can be to us in the day of distress, except we tremble within ourselves, except dread lays hold on all our faculties, and except all our soul becomes almost rotten. And hence it is said in Psalm 4:4, “Tremble, and ye shall not sin.” And Paul also shows that the true and profitable way of being angry is, when one is angry with his sins (Ephesians 4:26,) and when we tremble within ourselves. In the same manner does the Prophet describe the beginnings of repentance, when he says, that the faithful trembled in their bowels, and were so shaken within, that even their lips quivered, and, in short, (and this is the sum of the whole,) that all their senses felt consternation and fear.

He says, When he shall ascend: he speaks, no doubt, of the Chaldeans; When therefore the enemy shall ascend against the people, that he may cut them off: for גדה or גוד, gade or gud, means to cut off, and it means also to gather, and so some render it, “that he may gather them:” but the other meaning is better, “when the enemy shall ascend, that he may cut them off.” If one would have the word God to be understood, I do not object: for the Prophet does not otherwise speak of the Chaldeans than as the ministers and executioners of God’s wrath.

In short, he intimates, that they who had been moved and really terrified by God’s vengeance, would be in a quiet state when God executed his judgements. How so? because they would calmly submit to the rod, and look for a happy deliverance from their evils; for their minds would be seasonably prepared for patience, and then the Lord would also console them, as it is said in Psalm 51:17, that he despises not contrite hearts. When, therefore, the faithful are in a suitable time humbled, and when they thus anticipate the judgement of God, they then find a rest prepared for them in his bosom. It follows—

The Prophet declares now at large what that rest would be of which he had spoken; it would be even this—that he would not cease to rejoice in God, even in the greatest afflictions. He indeed foresees how grievous the impending punishment would be, and he warns also and arouses the faithful, that they might perceive the approaching judgement of God. He says, Flourish shall not the fig, and no fruit shall be on the vines; fail shall the olive. First, the fig shall not flourish; then, the fields shall produce nothing; and lastly, the cattle and the sheep shall fail. Though the figs produce fruit without flowering, it is not yet an improper use of פרח, perech, which means strictly to bud. 6767     The verb means to break forth either in buds, or germs, or shoots, and so to germinate, or to blossom. It is rendered by the Septuagint καρποφορησει, shall bear fruit.—Ed. He means that the desolation of the land was nigh at hand, and that the people would be reduced to extreme poverty. But it was an instance of rare virtue, to be able to rejoice in the Lord, when occasions of sorrow met him on every side.

The Prophet then teaches us what advantage it is to the faithful seasonably to submit to God, and to entertain serious fear when he threatens them, and when he summons them to judgement; and he shows that though they might perish a hundred times, they would yet not perish, for the Lord would ever supply them with occasions of joy, and would also cherish this joy within, so as to enable them to rise above all their adversities. Though, then, the land was threatened with famine, and though no food would be supplied to them, they would yet be able always to rejoice in the God of their salvation; for they would know him to be their Father, though for a time he severely chastised them. This is a delineation of that rest of which he made mention before.

The import of the whole is—“Though neither the figs, nor the vines, nor the olives, produce any fruit, and though the field be barren, though no food be given, yet I will rejoice in my God;” that is, our joy shall not depend on outward prosperity; for though the Lord may afflict us in an extreme degree, there will yet be always some consolation to sustain our minds, that they may not succumb under evils so grievous; for we are fully persuaded, that our salvation is in God’s hand, and that he is its faithful guardian. We shall, therefore, rest quietly, though heaven and earth were rolled together, and all places were full of confusion; yea, though God fulminated from heaven, we shall yet be in a tranquil state of mind, looking for his gratuitous salvation.

We now perceive more clearly, that the sorrow produced by the sense of our guilt is recommended to us on account of its advantage; for nothing is worse than to provoke God’s wrath to destroy us; and nothing is better than to anticipate it, so that the Lord himself may comfort us. We shall not always escape, for he may apparently treat us with severity; but though we may not be exempt from punishment, yet while he intends to humble us, he will give us reasons to rejoice: and then in his own time he will mitigate his severity, and by the effects will show himself propitious to us. Nevertheless, during the time when want or famine, or any other affliction, is to be borne, he will render us joyful with this one consolation, for, relying on his promises, we shall look for him as the God of our salvation. Hence, on one side Habakkuk sets the desolation of the land; and on the other, the inward joy which the faithful never fail to possess, for they are upheld by the perpetual favor of God. And thus he warns, as I have said, the children of God, that they might be prepared to bear want and famine, and calmly to submit to God’s chastisements; for had he not exhorted them as he did, they might have failed a hundred times.

We may hence gather a most useful doctrine,—That whenever signs of God’s wrath meet us in outward things, this remedy remains to us—to consider what God is to us inwardly; for the inward joy, which faith brings to us, can overcome all fears, terrors, sorrows and anxieties.

But we must notice what follows, In the God of my salvation: for sorrow would soon absorb all our thoughts, except God were present as our preserver. But how does he appear as such to the faithful? even when they estimate not his love by external things, but strengthen themselves by embracing the promise of his mercy, and never doubt but that he will be propitious to them; for it is impossible but that he will remember mercy even while he is angry. It follows—

He confirms the same truth,—that he sought no strength but in God alone. But there is an implied contrast between God and those supports on which men usually lean. There is indeed no one, who is not of a cheerful mind, when he possesses all necessary things, when no danger, no fear is impending: we are then courageous when all things smile on us. But the Prophet, by calling God his strength, sets him in opposition to all other supports; for he wishes to encourage the faithful to persevere in their hope, however grievously God might afflict them. His meaning then is,—that even when evils impetuously rage against us, when we vacillate and are ready to fall every moment, God ought then to be our strength; for the aid which he has promised for our support is all-sufficient. We hence see that the Prophet entertained firm hope, and by his example animated the faithful, provided they had God propitious, however might all other things fail them.

He will make, he says, my feet like those of hinds. I am inclined to refer this to their return to their own country, though some give this explanation,—“God will give the swiftest feet to his servants, so that they may pass over all obstacles to destroy their enemies;” but as they might think in their exile that their return was closed up against them, the Prophet introduces this most apt similitude, that God would give his people feet like those of hinds, so that they could climb the precipices of mountains, and dread no difficulties: He will then, he says, give me the feet of hinds, and make me to tread on my high places. Some think that this was said with regard to Judea, which is, as it is well known, mountainous; but I take the expression more simply in this way,—that God would make his faithful people to advance boldly and without fear along high places: for they who fear hide themselves and dare not to raise up the head, nor proceed openly along public roads; but the Prophet says, God will make me to tread on any high places

He at last adds, To the leader on my beatings. The first word some are wont to render conqueror. This inscription, To the leader, למנצח, lamenatsech, frequently occurs in the Psalms. To the conqueror, is the version of some; but it means, I have no doubt, the leader of the singers. Interpreters think that God is signified here by this title, for he presides over all the songs of the godly: and it may not inaptly be applied to him as the leader of the singers, as though the Prophet had said,—“God will be a strength to me; though I am weak in myself, I shall yet be strong in him; and he will enable me to surmount all obstacles, and I shall proceed boldly, who am now like one half-dead; and he will thus become the occasion of my song, and be the leader of the singers engaged in celebrating his praises, when he shall deliver from death his people in so wonderful a manner.” We hence see that the connection is not unsuitable, when he says, that there would be strength for him in God; and particularly as giving of thanks belonged to the leader or the chief singer, in order that God’s aid might be celebrated, not only privately but at the accustomed sacrifices, as was usually the case under the law. Those who explain it as denoting the beginning of a song, are extremely frigid and jejune in what they advance; I shall therefore pass it by.

He adds, on my beatings. This word, נגינות, neginoth, I have already explained in my work on the Psalms. Some think that it signifies a melody, others render it beatings (pulsationes) or notes (modos;) and others consider that musical instruments are meant. 6868     No satisfactory conjectures have been made by any as to the my added to this word. Hezekiah says at the end of his prayer, Isaiah 38:20, [ננגז ונגינותי], “and my neginoth will we sing,” or play, etc. Our version makes this my to refer to the ode or song he made to be played on the neginoth, supposed to have been a stringed instrument. In this case, “my neginoth” means the song he made for the neginoth. Then we might render the words,—
   For the leader; my song on the stringed instruments.

   —Ed.
I affirm nothing in a doubtful matter: and it is enough to bear in mind what we have said,—that the Prophet promises here to God a continual thanksgiving, when the faithful were redeemed, for not only each one would acknowledge that they had been saved by God’s hand, but all would assemble together in the Temple, and there testify their gratitude, and not only with their voices confess God as their Deliverer, but also with instruments of music, as we know it to have been the usual custom under the Law.




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