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18. Psalm 18

I will love thee, O Lord, my strength.

2The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.

3I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies.

4The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.

5The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me.

6In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears.

7Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth.

8There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it.

9He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under his feet.

10And he rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.

11He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.

12At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed, hail stones and coals of fire.

13The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave his voice; hail stones and coals of fire.

14Yea, he sent out his arrows, and scattered them; and he shot out lightnings, and discomfited them.

15Then the channels of waters were seen, and the foundations of the world were discovered at thy rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of thy nostrils.

16He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters.

17He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me: for they were too strong for me.

18They prevented me in the day of my calamity: but the Lord was my stay.

19He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.

20The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me.

21For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God.

22For all his judgments were before me, and I did not put away his statutes from me.

23I was also upright before him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity.

24Therefore hath the Lord recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight.

25With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright;

26With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt shew thyself froward.

27For thou wilt save the afflicted people; but wilt bring down high looks.

28For thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.

29For by thee I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall.

30 As for God, his way is perfect: the word of the Lord is tried: he is a buckler to all those that trust in him.

31For who is God save the Lord? or who is a rock save our God?

32 It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect.

33He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places.

34He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms.

35Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great.

36Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip.

37I have pursued mine enemies, and overtaken them: neither did I turn again till they were consumed.

38I have wounded them that they were not able to rise: they are fallen under my feet.

39For thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle: thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me.

40Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies; that I might destroy them that hate me.

41They cried, but there was none to save them: even unto the Lord, but he answered them not.

42Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind: I did cast them out as the dirt in the streets.

43Thou hast delivered me from the strivings of the people; and thou hast made me the head of the heathen: a people whom I have not known shall serve me.

44As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me: the strangers shall submit themselves unto me.

45The strangers shall fade away, and be afraid out of their close places.

46The Lord liveth; and blessed be my rock; and let the God of my salvation be exalted.

47 It is God that avengeth me, and subdueth the people under me.

48He delivereth me from mine enemies: yea, thou liftest me up above those that rise up against me: thou hast delivered me from the violent man.

49Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name.

50Great deliverance giveth he to his king; and sheweth mercy to his anointed, to David, and to his seed for evermore.

1. And he said, etc. I will not stop to examine too minutely the syllables, or the few words, in which this psalm differs from the song which is recorded in the twenty-second chapter of the Second Book of Samuel. When, however, we meet with any important difference, we shall advert to it in the proper place; and we find one in the remarkable sentence with which this psalm commences, I will love thee affectionately, O Jehovah, my strength, which is omitted in the song in Samuel. As the Scripture does not use the verb רהם, racham, for to love, except in the conjugation pihel, and as it is here put in the conjugation kal, some of the Jewish expositors explain it as here meaning to seek mercy; as if David had said, Lord, since I have so often experienced thee to be a merciful God, I will trust to and repose in thy mercies for ever. And certainly this exposition would not be unsuitable, but I am unwilling to depart from the other, which is more generally received. It is to be observed, that love to God is here laid down as constituting the principal part of true godliness; for there is no better way of serving God than to love him. No doubt, the service which we owe him is better expressed by the word reverence, that thus his majesty may prominently stand forth to our view in its infinite greatness. But as he requires nothing so expressly as to possess all the affections of our heart, and to have them going out towards him, so there is no sacrifice which he values more than when we are bound fast to him by the chain of a free and spontaneous love; and, on the other hand, there is nothing in which his glory shines forth more conspicuously than in his free and sovereign goodness. Moses, therefore, (Deuteronomy 10:12,) when he meant to give a summary of the law, says,

“And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require
of thee but to love him?”

In speaking thus, David, at the same time, intended to show that his thoughts and affections were not so intently fixed upon the benefits of God as to be ungrateful to him who was the author of them, a sin which has been too common in all ages. Even at this day we see how the greater part of mankind enjoy wholly at their ease the gifts of God without paying any regard to him, or, if they think of him at all, it is only to despise him. David, to prevent himself from falling into this ingratitude, in these words makes as it were a solemn vow, Lord, as thou art my strength, I will continue united and devoted to thee by unfeigned love.

2. Jehovah is my rock, etc. When David thus heaps together many titles by which to honor God, it is no useless or unnecessary accumulation of words. We know how difficult it is for men to keep their minds and hearts stayed in God. They either imagine that it is not enough to have God for them, and, consequently, are always seeking after support and succor elsewhere, or, at the first temptation which assails them, fall from the confidence which they placed in him. David, therefore, by attributing to God various methods of saving his people, protests that, provided he has God for his protector and defender, he is effectually fortified against all peril and assault; as if he had said, Those whom God intends to succor and defend are not only safe against one kind of dangers, but are as it were surrounded by impregnable ramparts on all sides, so that, should a thousand deaths be presented to their view, they ought not to be afraid even at this formidable array. 388388     “Comme environnez de bons rempars de tous costez, tellement que mille morts, quand autant il s’en presenteroit a eux, ne leur doyvent point faire peur.” — Fr. We see, then, that the design of David here is not only to celebrate the praises of God, in token of his gratitude, but also to fortify our minds with a firm and steadfast faith, so that, whatever afflictions befall us, we may always have recourse to God, and may be fully persuaded that he has virtue and power to assist us in different ways, according to the different methods of doing us mischief which the wicked devise. Nor, as I have observed before, does David insist so much on this point, and express the same thing by different terms without cause. God may have aided us in one way, and yet whenever a new tempest arises, we are immediately stricken with terror, as if we had never experienced any thing of his aid. And those who in one trouble expect protection and succor from him, but who afterwards circumscribe his power, accounting it limited in other respects, act like a man who upon going into battle, considers himself well secured as to his breast, because he has a breastplate and a shield to defend him, and yet is afraid of his head, because he is without a helmet. David, therefore, here furnishes the faithful with a complete suit of armor, 389389     “Et pourtant David equippe yci les fideles de pied en cap comme on dit.” — Fr. “David, therefore, here equips the faithful from head to foot, as we say.” that they may feel that they are in no danger of being wounded, provided they are shielded by the power of God. That such is the object he has in view, is apparent from the declaration which he makes of his confidence in God: I will trust in him Let us, therefore, learn from his example, to apply to our own use those titles which are here attributed to God, and to apply them as an antidote against all the perplexities and distresses which may assail us; or rather, let them be deeply imprinted upon our memory, so that we may be able at once to repel to a distance whatever fear Satan may suggest to our mind. I give this exhortation, not only because we tremble under the calamities with which we are presently assailed, but also because we groundlessly conjure up in our own imaginations dangers as to the time to come, and thus needlessly disquiet ourselves by the mere creations of fancy. In the song, as recorded in 2 Samuel 22:3, instead of these words, My God, my rock, it is, God of my rock. And after the word refuge, there is, My fortress, my savior, thou shalt preserve me from violence; words which make the sentence fuller, but the meaning comes to the same thing.

3. I will call upon the praised Jehovah. Calling upon God, as has been observed elsewhere, frequently comprehends the whole of his service; but as the effect or fruit of prayer is particularly mentioned in what follows, this phrase in the passage before us, I have no doubt, signifies to have recourse to God for protection, and to ask by prayer deliverance from him. David having said in the second verse, that he trusted in God, now subjoins this as an evidence of his trust; for every one who confides in God will earnestly beseech his aid in the time of need. He therefore declares, that he will be saved, and prove victorious over all his enemies, because he will have recourse to God for help. He calls God the praised Jehovah, not only to intimate that he is worthy of being praised, as almost all interpreters explain it, but also to point out, that, when he came to the throne of grace, his prayers would be mingled and interwoven with praises. 393393     The word in the Hebrew text מהלל, mehullal, literally signifies praise. The ancient versions view the word not as denoting that God is worthy to be praised, which is the meaning attached to it in our English version, but as referring to the Psalmist’s resolution to praise God. The Septuagint reads, Αινων επικαλεσομαι Κυριον Kytov, “Praising I will call upon the Lord.” The reading of the Vulgate is the same, “Laudans invocabo.” The Chaldee reads, “In a song or hymn I pour out prayers unto the Lord:” and the Arabic. “I will praise the Lord, and call upon him.” This is precisely the sense in which Calvin understands the words, “I will call upon the praised Jehovah.” The scope of the passage seems to require that it be understood as meaning, that giving thanks to God for the benefits which he has received from him in times past, he will ask his assistance by renewed supplications. And certainly no man will ever invoke God in prayer freely and frankly unless he animate and encourage himself by the remembrance of the grace of God. Accordingly Paul, in Philippians 4:6, exhorts the faithful

“in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, to make their requests known unto God” (Philippians 4:6)

and to disburden their cares, as it were, into his bosom. All those whose prayers are not accompanied with the praises of God are chargeable with clamouring and complaining against him, when engaged in that solemn exercise.

4. The cords 394394     “Death is here personified under the semblance of a mighty conqueror, who binds his vanquished foes in strong fetters.” — Walford. of death had compassed me about. David now begins to recount the undoubted and illustrious proofs by which he had experienced that the hand of God is sufficiently strong and powerful to repel all the dangers and calamities with which he may be assailed. And we need not wonder that those things which might have been described more simply, and in an unadorned style, are clothed in poetical forms of expression, and set forth with all the elegancies and ornaments of language. The Holy Spirit, to contend against and make an impression upon the wicked and perverse dispositions of men, has here furnished David with eloquence full of majesty, energy, and wonderful power, to awaken mankind to consider the benefits of God. There is scarcely any assistance God bestows, however evident and palpable it may be to our senses, which our indifference or proud disdain does not obscure. David, therefore, the more effectually to move and penetrate our minds, says that the deliverance and succor which God had granted him had been conspicuous in the whole frame-work of the world. This his intention it is needful for us to take into view, lest we should think that he exceeds due bounds in expressing himself in a style so remarkable for sublimity. The sum is, that, when in his distresses he had been reduced to extremity, he had betaken himself to God for help, and had been wonderfully preserved.

We shall now make a few observations with respect to the words. The Hebrew word חבלי, chebley, means cords or sorrows, or any deadly evil, 395395     “חבל, chebel,” says Hammond, “signifies two things, a cord, and a pang of a woman’s travail, and which it signifies must be resolved still by the context. Here, where it is joined with encompassing, it is most fitly to be understood in the former sense, because ropes or cords are proper for that turn, as for holding and keeping in when they are inclosed.” The Chaldee understands the word in the other sense, and paraphrases the clause thus: ”Distress hath compassed me as a woman in travail which hath not strength to bring forth, and is in danger of death,” The Septuagint adopts the same view, reading, “ὠδινες θανατου, the pangs of death.” which consumes a man’s health and strength, and which tends to his destruction. That the psalm may correspond with the song recorded in 2nd Samuel, formerly referred to, I do not disapprove of this word being here taken for contrition, because the phrase there employed is משברי מות, mishberey maveth, 396396     Cocceius renders the words, “the waves of death,” and he observes, that the words “waves’” explains the verb “compassed me about.” Death sent its sorrows thick upon him one after another, as the sea sends forth its waves, and with such violence that he was ready to be overwhelmed. The word משברי, mishberey, is applied both to the breaking waves of the sea, (Psalm 42:7.) — Ainsworth. Horsley translates the phrase, “The breakers of death.” “The metaphor,” says he, “is taken from those dangerous waves our mariners call white breakers.” and the noun משברי, mishberey, is derived from a verb which signifies to break. But as the metaphor taken from cords or snares agrees better with the verb compass about, the import of which is, that David was on all sides involved and entangled in the perils of death, I am disposed rather to adopt this interpretation. What follows concerning torrents implies that he had been almost overwhelmed by the violence and impetuosity of his enemies against him, even as a man who is covered over the head with floods of water is almost lost. He calls them the torrents of Belial, because it was wicked and perverse men who had conspired against him. The Hebrew word Belial has a wide signification. With respect to its etymology there are different opinions among expositors. Why Jerome has rendered it without yoke, 397397     Jerome doubtless derived the word from בלי, beli, not or without, and עול, ol, a yoke, and thus the term Belial means those who shake off all restraint. Signifying to profit, or to gain advantage in any respect. I know not. The more generally received opinion is, that it is compounded of these two words, בלי, beli, not, and יעל, yaäl, 398398     Belial is a compound term, significant of vileness and worthlessness. to denote that the wicked do not rise, in other words, ultimately gain nothing, and obtain no advantage by their infatuated course. The Jews certainly employed this word to designate every kind of detestable wickedness, and from this it is highly probable that David by it meant to describe his enemies, who basely and wickedly plotted his destruction. 399399     “The ‘floods of Belial’ intend large bodies of men, who rush forward in impetuous torrents to overwhelm and destroy whatever opposes them.” - Walford. If, however, any prefer translating the phrase, by deadly torrents, I am not disposed to oppose this rendering. In the following verse he again repeats, that the corruptions or cords of the grave had compassed him about As the Hebrew word is the same which he had employed in the preceding verse, I have thought it proper to translate it cords here, as I have done there, not only because he uses a verb which signifies to beset, to inclose, or to surround, but also because he adds immediately after, the snares of death, which, in my opinion, is to be understood in the same sense. This, then, is the description of the dangerous circumstances into which he was brought, and it enhances and magnifies so much the more the glory of his deliverance. As David had been reduced to a condition so desperate that no hope of relief or deliverance from it was apparent, it is certain that he was delivered by the hand of God, and that it was not a thing effected by the power of man.

6. In my distress, etc. It was a very evident proof of uncommon faith in David, when, being almost plunged into the gulf of death, he lifted up his heart to heaven by prayer. Let us therefore learn, that such an example is set before our eyes, that no calamities, however great and oppressive, may hinder us from praying, or create an aversion to it. It was prayer which brought to David the fruits or wonderful effects of which he speaks a little after, and from this it appears still more clearly that his deliverance was effected by the power of God. In saying that he cried, he means, as we have observed elsewhere, the ardor and earnestness of affection which he had in prayer. Again, by calling God his God, he separates himself from the gross despisers of God, or hypocrites, who, when constrained by necessity, call upon the Divine Majesty in a confused and tumultuous manner, but do not come to God familiarly and with a pure heart, as they know nothing of his fatherly favor and goodness. When, therefore, as we approach to God, faith goes before to illumine the way, giving us the full persuasion that He is our Father, then is the gate opened, and we may converse freely with Him and he with us. David, by calling God his God, and putting him on his side, also intimates that God was opposed to his enemies; and this serves to show that he was actuated by true piety and the fear of God. By the word temple we are not here to understand the sanctuary as in many other places, but heaven; for the description which immediately follows cannot be applied to the sanctuary. Accordingly, the sense is, that when David was forsaken and abandoned in the world, and all men shut their ears to his cry for help, God stretched forth his hand from heaven to save him.

7. Then the earth shook. David, convinced that the aid of God, which he had experienced, was of such a character, that it was impossible for him to extol it sufficiently and as it deserved, sets forth an image of it in the sky and the earth, as if he had said, It has been as visible as the changes which give different appearances to the sky and the earth. If natural things always flowed in an even and uniform course, the power of God would not be so perceptible. But when he changes the face of the sky by sudden rain, or by loud thunder, or by dreadful tempests, those who before were, as it were, asleep and insensible, must necessarily be awakened, and be tremblingly conscious of the existence of a presiding God. 400400     “Il faut necessa ement que les gens qui auparavant estoyent comme endormis et stupides se resueillent et apprehendent qu’il y a un Dieu.” — Fr. Such sudden and unforeseen changes manifest more clearly the presence of the great Author of nature. No doubt, when the sky is unclouded and tranquil, we see in it sufficient evidences of the majesty of God, but as men will not stir up their minds to reflect upon that majesty, until it come nearer to them, David, the more powerfully to affect us, recounts the sudden changes by which we are usually moved and dismayed, and introduces God at one time clothed with a dark cloud, — at another, throwing the air into confusion by tempests, — now rending it by the boisterous violence of winds, — now launching the lightnings, — and anon darting down hailstones and thunderbolts. In short, the object of the Psalmist is to show that the God who, as often as he pleases, causes all parts of the world to tremble by his power, when he intended to manifest himself as the deliverer of David, was known as openly and by signs as evident as if he had displayed his power in all the creatures both above and beneath.

In the first place, he says, The earth shook, and nothing is more dreadful than an earthquake. Instead of the words, the foundations of the mountains, it is in the song, as recorded in 2nd Samuel, the foundations of the heavens; but the meaning is the same, namely, that there was nothing in the world so settled and steadfast which did not tremble, and which was not removed out of its place. David, however, as I have already observed in the beginning, does not relate this as a piece of history, or as what had actually taken place, but he employs these similitudes for the purpose of removing all doubt, and for the greater confirmation of faith as to the power and providence of God; because men, from their slowness of understanding, cannot apprehend God except by means of external signs. Some think that these miracles were actually wrought, and performed exactly as they are here related; but it is not easy to believe this, since the Holy Spirit, in the narrative given of David’s life, makes no mention whatever of such wonderful displays of divine power in his behalf. We cannot, however, justly censure or find fault with this hyperbolic manner of speaking, when we consider our slowness of apprehension, and also our depravity, to which I have just now called your attention. David, who was much more penetrating and quick of understanding than ordinary men, finding he could not sufficiently succeed in impressing and profiting people of sluggish and weak understandings by a simple manner of speaking, describes under outward figures the power of God, which he had discovered by means of faith, and the revelation of the Holy Spirit. He doubtless hereby apprehended and knew more distinctly the omnipresent majesty of God, than the dull sort of common people perceive the hand of God in earthquakes, tempests, thunders, the gloomy lowerings of the heavens, and the boisterous winds. At the same time, it is proper to consider, that although God had, in a wonderful manner, displayed his grace in defending and maintaining David, many, nevertheless, thought that it was by his own skill, or by chance, or by other natural means, that all his affairs had come to a prosperous issue; and it was such stupidity or depravity as this which he saw in the men of his own time, that constrained him to mention and to summon together all parts of creation as witnesses for God. Some also justly and judiciously consider that, in the whole of this description, David has an allusion to the common deliverance of God’s chosen people from Egypt. As God then designed and established that event to be a perpetual memorial, from which the faithful might learn that he was the guardian and protector of their welfare, so all the benefits which, from that period, he bestowed upon his people, either as a public body or as private individuals, were, so to speak, appendages of that first deliverance. Accordingly David, in other places as well as here, with the view of exalting the succor which God had granted to his people, sets forth that most memorable instance of the goodness of God towards the children of Israel, as if it were the archtype or original copy of the grace of God. And surely, while many, seeing him an exile from his country, held him in derision as a man expelled from the family of God, and many murmured that he had violently and unrighteously usurped the kingdom, he had good ground to include, under the deliverance which had been common to all the people, the protection and safety which God had afforded to himself; as if he had said, I have been wrongfully cast off as an alien or stranger, seeing God has sufficiently shown, in the deliverance which he has wrought for me, that by him I am owned and acknowledged to be a distinguished and valuable member of the Church. We see how the prophets, whenever they would inspire the people with the hope of salvation, call their thoughts back to the contemplation of that first covenant which had been confirmed by those miracles which were wrought in Egypt, in the passage through the Red Sea and in Mount Sinai. When he says, The earth trembled, because he was wroth, it is to be understood as referring to the ungodly. It is a form of speech which God often employs, to say, that, being inflamed with indignation, he arms himself to maintain the safety of his people against their persecutors.

8. There went up a smoke by [or out of] his nostrils, etc The Hebrew word אף, aph, properly signifies the nose, or the nostrils. But as it is sometimes taken metaphorically for wrath, some translate it thus, There went up a smoke in his wrath, which, in my opinion, is not at all appropriate. David compares the mists and vapours which darken the air to the thick smoke which a man sends forth from his nostrils when he is angry. And when God, by his very breath, covers the heaven with clouds, and taking away from us the brightness of the sun and of all the stars, overwhelms us in darkness, by this we are very impressively taught how dreadful is his wrath. By the rendering which I have given, the figure here strikingly harmonises with the one in the clause which immediately follows, namely, that fire proceeding from his mouth consumed The Psalmist means, that God, without great labor or effort, as soon as he shall have sent forth a breath or blast from his nostrils, and opened his mouth, will kindle such a fire that its smoke will darken the whole world, and its intense heat devour it. What he adds, Coals were kindled by it, serves to distinguish this dreadful fire from a flame which blazes for a moment, and then is extinguished. The bowing of the heavens, denotes a time when the heavens are covered and obscured with clouds. When dense vapours occupy the middle of the air, the clouds seem to us to come down and to lie upon our heads. And not only so, but the majesty of God then approaching, as it were, nearer us, strikes us with dread dismay, and greatly distresses us, although before, when the sky was fair, agreeable, and tranquil, we took ample scope, and enjoyed ourselves with much gaiety. Again, let us remember, that the Scripture, under these descriptions of a clouded and darkened sky, pourtray to us the anger of God. When the sky is clear and unclouded, it seems as if it were the pleasant and benignant countenance of God beaming upon us, and causing us to rejoice; whereas, on the other hand, when the atmosphere is troubled, we feel a depression of the animal spirits which constrains us to look sad, as if we saw God coming against us with a threatening aspect. At the same time, we are taught that no change takes place either in the atmosphere or in the earth, but what is a witness to us of the presence of God.

10. He rode also upon a cherub. The Psalmist having exhibited to us a sign of the wrath of God in the clouds, and in the darkening of the air, representing him as if he breathed out smoke, 401401     “Tout ainsi que s’il jettoit une fureur par les narines.” — Fr. “As if he cast forth fury from his nostrils.” from his nostrils, and descended with a threatening countenance, to afflict men by the dreadful weight of his power; and having also represented lightnings and thunderbolts as flaming fire proceeding from his mouths — he now introduces him as riding upon the winds and tempests, to take a survey of the whole world with rapid speed, or rather with the swiftness of flying. We meet with a similar description in Psalm 104:3, where God is said to “walk upon the wings of the winds,” and to send them forth in every direction as his swift messengers. David does not, however, simply represent God as the governor of the winds, who drives them by his power whithersoever he pleases; he at the same time tells us that he rides upon a cherub, to teach us that the very violence of the winds is governed by angels as God has ordained. We know that the angels were represented under the figure of the cherubim. David, therefore, I have no doubt, here intended to make an allusion to the ark of the covenant. In proposing for our consideration the power of God as manifested in the wonders of nature, he does it in such a manner as all the time to have an eye to the temple, where he knew God had made himself known in a peculiar manner to the children of Abraham. He therefore celebrates God not only as creator of the world, but as He who entered into covenant with Israel, and chose for himself a holy dwelling-place in the midst of that people. David might have called the angels by their common name, but he has expressly made use of a term which has a reference to the visible symbol of the ark, that true believers, in singing this psalm, might always have their minds directed to the service of God which was performed in the temple. What follows with respect, to God’s dark pavilion or tent, is a repetition of the preceding sentence in different words, namely, that when God covers the air with dark clouds, it is as if he spread a thick veil between him and men, to deprive them of the sight of his countenance, 402402     “C’est comme s’il tendoit un voile espes entre luy et les hommes, afin de leur oster le regard de sa face.” — Fr. just as if a king, incensed against his subjects, should retire into his secret chamber and hide himself from them. Those take a mistaken view of this verse who bring it forward to prove, in general, the hidden and mysterious character of the glory of God, as if David, with the view of restraining the presumption of human curiosity, had said that God is hidden in darkness in regard to men. God, it is true, is said to dwell in the light which no man can approach unto” (1 Timothy 6:16;) but the form of expression which David here employs, I have no doubt, ought to be restricted, according to the scope of the passage, to the sense which I have given.

12. At the brightness, etc. The Psalmist again returns to the lightnings which, by dividing and as it were cleaving the clouds, lay open the heaven; and, therefore, he says, that the clouds of God (that is to say, those which he had set before him, in token of his anger, for the purpose of depriving men of the enjoyment of the light of his countenance) passed away at the brightness which was before him These sudden changes affect us with a much more lively sense of the power and agency of God than natural phenomena which move on in one uniform course. He adds, that there followed hail-storm and coals of fire; for when the thunder separates and rends asunder the clouds, it either breaks out in lightnings, or the clouds resolve themselves into hail.

13. Jehovah thundered. David here repeats the same thing in different words, declaring that God thundered from heaven; and he calls the thunder the yoke of God, that we may not suppose it is produced merely by chance or by natural causes, independent of the appointment and will of God. Philosophers, it is true, are well acquainted with the intermediate or secondary causes, from which the thunder proceeds, namely, that when the cold and humid vapours obstruct the dry and hot exhalations in their course upwards, a collision takes place, and by this, together with the noise of the clouds rushing against each other, is produced the rumbling thunder-peal. 405405     “De ce combat et aussi du bruit des nuees allans l’une contre l’autre, se fait un son.” — Fr. But David, in describing the phenomena of the atmosphere, rises, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, above the mere phenomena themselves, and represents God to us as the supreme governor of the whole, who, at his will, penetrates into the hidden veins of the earth, and thence draws forth exhalations; who then, dividing them into different sorts, disperses them through the air; who again collects the vapours together, and sets them in conflict with the subtile and dry heats, so that the thunder which follows seems to be a loud pealing voice proceeding from his own mouth. The song in 2nd Samuel also contains the repetition to which we have referred in the commencement of our remarks on this verse; but the sense of this and the preceding verse, and of the corresponding verses in Samuel, are entirely similar. We should remember what I have said before, that David, under these figures, describes to us the dreadful power of God, the better to exalt and magnify the divine grace, which was manifested in his deliverance. He declares a little after, that this was his intention; for, when speaking of his enemies, he says, (verse 14,) that they were scattered, or put to flight, by the arrows of God; as if he had said, They have been overthrown, not by the hands or swords of men, but by God, who openly launched his thunderbolts against them. Not that he means to affirm that this happened literally, but he speaks in this metaphorical language, because those who were uninstructed and slow to acknowledge the power of God, 406406     “Et tardifs a reconnaistre la vertu de Dieu.” — Fr. could not otherwise be brought to perceive that God was the author of his deliverance. The import of his words is, Whoever does not acknowledge that I have been preserved by the hand of God, may as well deny that it is God who thunders from heaven, and abolish his power which is manifested in the whole order of nature, and especially in those wonderful changes which we see taking place in the atmosphere. As God shoots lightnings as if they were arrows, the Psalmist has, in the first place, employed this metaphor; and then he has expressed the thing simply by its proper name.

15. And the sources of the waters were seen. In this verse, David doubtless alludes to the miracle which was wrought when the chosen tribes passed through the Red Sea. I have before declared the purpose for which he does this. As all the special benefits which God in old time conferred upon any of the children of Abraham as individuals, were so many testimonies by which he recalled to their remembrance the covenant which he had once entered into with the whole people, to assure them that he would always continue his grace towards them, and that one deliverance might be to them a token or pledge of their perpetual safety, and of the protection of God, David fitly conjoins with that ancient deliverance of the Church the assistance which God had sent from heaven to him in particular. As the grace which he declares God had shown towards him was not to be separated from that first deliverance, since it was, so to speak, a part and an appendage of it, he beholds, as it were at a glance, or in an instant, both the ancient miracle of the drying up of the Red Sea, and the assistance which God granted to himself. In short, God, who once opened up for his people a way through the Red Sea, and then showed himself to be their protector upon this condition, that they should assure themselves of being always maintained and preserved under his keeping, now again displayed his wonderful power in the defense and preservation of one man, to renew the remembrance of that ancient history. From this it appears the more evidently, that David, in using these apparently strange and exaggerated hyperboles, does not recite to us the mere creations of romance to please the fancy, after the manner of the heathen poets, 407407     “En usant de ces hyperboles et similitudes qui semblent estranges et excessives ne nous recite pas des fables et contes faits a plaisir a la fakon des Poietes profanes.” — Fr. but observes the style and manner which God had, as it were, prescribed to his people. At the same time, we ought carefully to mark the reason already adverted to, which constrained him to magnify the grace of God in a style of such splendid imagery, namely, because the greater part of the people never made the grace of God the subject of serious consideration, but, either through wickedness or stupidity, passed over it with shut eyes. The Hebrew word אפיקים, aphikim, which I have rendered sources, properly signifies the channels of rivers; but David, in this passage, evidently means that the very springs or sources of the waters were laid open, and that thus it could be discerned whence proceeds the great and inexhaustible abundance of waters which supply the rivers, and by which they always continue to flow on in their course.

16. He sent down from above. Here there is briefly shown the drift of the sublime and magnificent narrative which has now passed under our review, namely, to teach us that David at length emerged from the profound abyss of his troubles, neither by his own skill, nor by the aid of men, but that he was drawn out of them by the hand of God. When God defends and preserves us wonderfully and by extraordinary means, he is said in Scripture language to send down succor from above; and this sending is set in opposition to human and earthly aids, on which we usually place a mistaken and an undue confidence. I do not disapprove of the opinion of those who consider this as referring to the angels, but I understand it in a more general sense; for by whatever means we are preserved, it is God who having his creatures ready at his nod to do his will, appoints them to take charge of us, and girds or prepares them for succouring us. But, although every kind of aid comes from heaven, David, with good reason, affirms that God had stretched out his hand from on high to deliver him. In speaking thus, he meant to place the astonishing benefit referred to, by way of eminence, above others of a more common kind; and besides, there is in this expression a tacit comparison between the unusual exercise of the power of God here celebrated, and the common and ordinary means by which he succours his people. When he says, that God drew him out of great waters, it is a metaphorical form of expression. By comparing the cruelty of his enemies to impetuous torrents, by which he might have been swallowed up a hundred times, he expresses more clearly the greatness of the danger; as if he had said, I have, contrary to the expectation of men, escaped, and been delivered from a deep abyss in which I was ready to be overwhelmed. In the following verse he expresses the thing simply and without a figure, declaring that he had been delivered from a strong enemy, 408408     Bishop Patrick paraphrases the verse thus:— “He delivered me first from that mighty giant, Goliath, and then from Saul, whose power I was not able to withstand; and afterwards from the Philistines and Syrians, and many other nations, whose forces were far superior unto mine, and whose hatred instigated them to do all they could to destroy me.” who mortally hated and persecuted him. The more to exalt and magnify the power of God, he directs our attention to this circumstance, that no strength or power of men had been able to prevent God from saving him, even when he was reduced to the greatest extremity of distress. As in the end of the verse there is the Hebrew particle כי, ki, which generally denotes the cause of what is predicated, almost all interpreters agree in explaining the verse thus: God has succoured me from above, because my enemies were so numerous and so strong that no relief was to be expected by the mere aid of men. From this we deduce a very profitable doctrine, namely, that the most seasonable time for God to aid his people is when they are unable to sustain the assaults of their enemies, or rather, when, broken and afflicted, they sink under their violence, like the wretched man who having in a shipwreck lost all hope of being able to swim to the shore, sinks with great rapidity to the bottom of the deep. The particle יכ, ki, however, might also be explained by the adversative particle although, in this way: Although the enemies of David were superior to him in number and power, he nevertheless was saved.

18. They had prevented me in the day of my calamity. 409409     “They set their faces against me in the day of my calamity,” — Walford. The Psalmist here confirms in different words the preceding sentence, namely, that he had been sustained by the aid of God, when there was no way of escaping by the power of man. He tells us how he had been besieged on all sides, and that not by an ordinary siege, inasmuch as his enemies, in persecuting him, always molested him most in the time of his calamity. From this circumstance it is the more evident that he had obtained enlargement by no other means than by the hand of God. Whence proceeded so sudden a restoration from death to life, but because God intended to show that he has in his hand, and under his absolute control, the issues of death? In short, the Psalmist ascribes his deliverance to no other cause than the mere good pleasure of God, that all the praise might redound to him alone: He delivered me, because he loved me, or had a good will to me. In mentioning the good pleasure of God, he has a special respect to his own calling to be king. The point on which he principally insisted is, that the assaults which were made upon him, and the conflicts which he had to sustain, were stirred up against him for no other reason but because he had obeyed the call of God, and followed with humble obedience the revelation of his oracle. Ambitious and turbulent men, who are carried headlong by their unruly lusts, inconsiderately to attempt any thing, and who, by their rashness, involve themselves in dangers, may often accomplish their undertakings by vigorous and resolute efforts, but at length a reverse takes place, and they are stopt short in their career of success, for they are unworthy of being sustained and prospered by God, since, without having any warrant or foundation for what they do in his call, they would raise their insane structures even to heaven, and disturb all around them. In short, David testifies, by this expression, that the assistance of God had never failed him, because he had not thrust himself into the office of king of his own accord, but that when he was contented with his humble condition, and would willingly have lived in obscurity, in the sheep-cotes, or in his father’s hut, he had been anointed by the hand of Samuel, which was the symbol of his free election by God to fill the throne.

20. Jehovah rewarded me. David might seem at first sight to contradict himself; for, while a little before he declared that all the blessings which he possessed were to be traced to the good pleasure of God, he now boasts that God rendered to him a just recompense. But if we remember for what purpose he connects these commendations of his own integrity with the good pleasure of God, it will be easy to reconcile these apparently conflicting statements. He has before declared that God was the sole author and originator of the hope of coming to the kingdom which he entertained, and that he had not been elevated to it by the suffrages of men, nor had he rushed forward to it through the mere impulse of his own mind, but accepted it because such was the will of God. Now he adds, in the second place, that he had yielded faithful obedience to God, and had never turned aside from his will. Both these things were necessary; first, that God should previously show his favor freely towards David, in choosing him to be king; and next, that David, on the other hand, should, with an obedient spirit, and a pure conscience, receive the kingdom which God thus freely gave him; and farther, that whatever the wicked might attempt, with the view of overthrowing or shaking his faith, he should nevertheless continue to adhere to the direct course of his calling. Thus, then, we see that these two statements, so far from disagreeing with each other, admirably harmonise. David here represents God as if the president 411411     Agonotheta. Calvin alludes to the ancient games and combats of Greece, the presidents of which were called Agonothetee. of a combat, under whose authority and conduct he had been brought forth to engage in the combats. Now that depended upon election, in other words, upon this, that God having embraced him with his favor, had created him king. He adds in the verses which immediately follow, that he had faithfully performed the duties of the charge and office committed to him even to the uttermost. It is not, therefore, wonderful if God maintained and protected David, and even showed, by manifest miracles, that he was the defender of his own champion, 412412     ArMeta. Those who exercised themselves with the view of contending for the prizes in the Grecian games and combats were called AtMetce. whom he had, of his own free choice, admitted to the combat, and who he saw had performed his duty with all fidelity. We ought not, however, to think that David, for the sake of obtaining praise among men, has here purposely indulged in the language of vain boasting; we ought rather to view the Holy Spirit as intending by the mouth of David to teach us the profitable doctrine, that the aid of God will never fail us, provided we follow our calling, keep ourselves within the limits which it prescribes, and undertake nothing without the command or warrant of God. At the same time, let this truth be deeply fixed in our minds, that we can only begin an upright course of life when God of his good pleasure adopts us into his family, and in effectually calling, anticipates us by his grace, without which neither we nor any creature would give him an opportunity of bestowing this blessing upon us. 413413     “Sans que nous ne creature quelconque luy en donnions” occasion. — Fr.

There, however, still remains one question. If God rendered to David a just recompense, it may be said, does it not seem, when he shows himself liberal towards his people, that he is so in proportion as each of them has deserved? I answer, When the Scripture uses the word reward or recompense, it is not to show that God owes us any thing, and it is therefore a groundless and false conclusion to infer from this that there is any merit or worth in works. God, as a just judge, rewards every man according to his works, but he does it in such a manner, as to show that all men are indebted to him, while he himself is under obligation to no one. The reason is not only that which St Augustine has assigned, namely, that God finds no righteousness in us to recompense, except what he himself has freely given us, but also because, forgiving the blemishes and imperfections which cleave to our works, he imputes to us for righteousness that which he might justly reject. If, therefore, none of our works please God, unless the sin which mingles with them is pardoned, it follows, that the recompense which he bestows on account of them proceeds not from our merit, but from his free and undeserved grace. We ought, however, to attend to the special reason why David here speaks of God rewarding him according to his righteousness. He does not presumptuously thrust himself into the presence of God, trusting to or depending upon his own obedience to the law as the ground of his justification; but knowing that God approved the affection of his heart, and wishing to defend and acquit himself from the false and wicked calumnies of his enemies, he makes God himself the judge of his cause. We know how unjustly and shamefully he had been loaded with false accusations, and yet these calumnies did not so much bear against the honor and name of David as against the welfare and estate of the whole Church in common. It was indeed mere private spite which stirred up Saul, and drove him into fury against David, and it was to please the king that all other men were so rancorous against an innocent individual, and broke forth so outrageously against him; but Satan, there is no doubt, had a prime agency in exciting these formidable assaults upon the kingdom of David, and by them he endeavored to accomplish his ruin, because in the person of this one man God had placed, and, as it were, shut up the hope of the salvation of the whole people. This is the reason why David labors so carefully and so earnestly to show and to maintain the righteousness of his cause. When he presents and defends himself before the judgment-seat of God against his enemies, the question is not concerning the whole course of his life, but only respecting one certain cause, or a particular point. We ought, therefore, to attend to the precise subject of his discourse, and what he here debates. The state of the matter is this: His adversaries charged him with many crimes; first, of rebellion and treason, accusing him of having revolted from the king his father-in-law; in the second place, of plunder and robbery, as if, like a robber, he had taken possession of the kingdom; thirdly, of sedition, as if he had thrown the kingdom into confusion when it enjoyed tranquillity; and, lastly, of cruelty and many flagitious actions, as if he had been the cause of murders, and had prosecuted his conspiracy by many dangerous means and unlawful artifices. David, in opposition to these accusations, with the view of maintaining his innocence before God, protests and affirms that he had acted uprightly and sincerely in this matter, inasmuch as he attempted nothing without the command or warrant of God; and whatever hostile attempts his enemies made against him, he nevertheless always kept himself within the bounds prescribed by the Divine Law. It would be absurd to draw from this the inference that God is merciful to men according as he judges them to be worthy of his favor. Here the object in view is only to show the goodness of a particular cause, and to maintain it in opposition to wicked calumniators; and not to bring into examination the whole life of a man, that he may obtain favor, and be pronounced righteous before God. In short, David concludes from the effect and the issue, that his cause was approved of by God, not that one victory is always and necessarily the sign of a good cause, but because God, by evident tokens of his assistance, showed that he was on the side of David.


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