3.Lo! children are the heritage of Jehovah.Solomon here adduces one instance in which, in a particular manner, he would have us to recognize the truth which he has hitherto asserted generally — that the life of men is governed by God. Nothing seems more natural than for men to be produced of men. The majority of mankind dream, that after God had once ordained this at the beginning, children were thenceforth begotten solely by a secret instinct of nature, God ceasing to interfere in the matter; and even those who are endued with some sense of piety, although they may not deny that He is the Father and Creator of the human race, yet do not acknowledge that his providential care descends to this particular case, but rather think that men are created by a certain universal motion. With the view of correcting this preposterous error, Solomon calls children the heritage of God, and the fruit of the womb his gift; for the Hebrew word rkç, sachar, translated reward, signifies whatever benefits God bestows upon men, as is plainly manifest from many passages of Scripture. The meaning then is, that, children are not the fruit of chance, but that God, as it seems good to him, distributes to every man his share of them. Moreover, as the Prophet repeats the same thing twice, heritage and reward are to be understood as equivalent; for both these terms are set in opposition to fortune, or the strength of men. The stronger a man is he seems so much the better fitted for procreation. Solomon declares on the contrary, that those become fathers to whom God vouchsafes that honor.
As the majority of children are not always a source of joy to their parents, a second favor of God is added, which is his forming the minds of children, and adorning them with an excellent disposition, and all kinds of virtues. Aristotle in his Politics very properly discusses the question whether poluteknia, that is, the having of many children, ought to be accounted among good things or no; and he decides it in the negative, unless there is added eujgeneia, that is, generosity or goodness of nature in the children themselves. And assuredly it would be a far happier lot for many to be without children, or barren, than to have a numerous offspring, proving to them only the cause of tears and groans. In order, then, to set forth this blessing of God — the having offspring — in a clear light, Solomon commends a virtuous and generous disposition in children. The similitude introduced for this purpose is, that as an archer is armed ‘with a well-furnished bow, so men are defended by their children, as it were with a bow and all arrow. This similitude might seem, at first sight, a little too harsh; but if it is examined somewhat more closely, its elegance will be readily admitted. The Prophet means that those who are without children are in a manner unarmed; for what else is it to be childless but to be solitary? It is no small gift of God for a man to be renewed in his posterity; for God then gives him new strength, that he who otherwise would straightway decay, may begin as it were to live a second time.
The knowledge of this doctrine is highly useful. The fruitfulness even of the lower animals is expressly ascribed to God alone; and if He would have it to be accounted his benefit that kine, and sheep, and mares conceive, how inexcusable will be the impiety of men, if when he adorns them with the honorable title of fathers, they account this favor as nothing. It is also to be added, that unless men regard their children as the gift of God, they are careless and reluctant in providing for their support, just as on the other hand this knowledge contributes in a very eminent degree to encourage them in bringing up their offspring. Farther, he who thus reflects upon the goodness of God in giving him children, will readily and with a settled mind look for the continuance of God’s grace; and although he may have but a small inheritance to leave them, he will not be unduly careful on that account.
5.They shall not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate.Here Solomon describes such children as, distinguished by uprightness and integrity, have no hesitation in rendering an account of their life, that they may shut the mouths of the malevolent and of calumniators. In ancient times, as is well known, judicial assemblies fe102 were held at the gates of cities. He therefore here speaks of the gate, as if in the present day one should speak of the bench, or the courts, or the senate. Let it be observed that what is chiefly praised in children is innocence, that fathers may estimate this grace at its true value. In the preceding clause he had compared children endued with virtue and excellence of nature to arrows. Now, that no man may put a violent construction upon this comparison, as if it were intended to give children leave, like robbers, to rush upon doing mischief to such as come in their way, reckless of right and wrong, he expressly represents virtue and moral integrity as constituting the protection which they ought to afford to their fathers. He teaches us, then, that the children which we ought to wish for, are not such as may violently oppress the wretched and suffering, or overreach others by craft and deceit, or accumulate great riches by unlawful means, or acquire for themselves tyrannical authority, but such as will practice uprightness, and be willing to live in obedience to the laws, and prepared to render an account of their life. Farther, although fathers ought diligently to form their children under a system of holy discipline, yet let them remember that they will never succeed in attaining the object aimed at, save by the pure and special grace of God. Solomon also tacitly intimates that however zealously we may be devoted to the practice of integrity, we shall never be without detractors and slanderers; for if integrity of life were exempt from all calumny, we would have no quarrel with our enemies.
This Psalm is akin to the preceding, and, so to speak, a kind of appendage to it; for it declares that the divine blessing, to the diffusion of which among the whole human race Solomon testified, is to be seen most conspicuously in the ease of God’s true and sincere servants.
A Song of Degrees.
1. Blessed is the man who feareth Jehovah, and walketh in his ways. 2. For when thou shalt eat the labor of thy hands, thou shalt be blessed, and it shall be well with thee. 3. Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine on the sides of thy house, and thy children as olive plants around thy table. fe103A
1. Blessed is the man who feareth Jehovah.In the preceding Psalm it was stated that prosperity in all human affairs, and in the whole course of our life, is to be hoped for exclusively from the grace of God; and now the Prophet admonishes us that those who desire to be partakers of the blessing of God must with sincerity of heart devote themselves wholly to him; for he will never disappoint those who serve him. The first verse contains a summary of the subject-matter of the Psalm; the remaining portion being added only by way of exposition. The maxim “that those are blessed who fear God, especially in the present life,” is so much with variance with the common opinion of men, that very few will give it their assent. Everywhere are to be found fluttering about many Epicureans, similar to Dionysius, who, having once had a favorable wind upon the sea and a prosperous voyage, after having plundered a temple, fe104 boasted that the gods favored church robbers. Also the weak are troubled and shaken by the prosperity of evil men, and they next faint under the load of their own miseries. The despisers of God may not indeed enjoy prosperity, and the condition of good men may be tolerable, but still the greater part of men are blind in considering the providence of God, or seem not in any degree to perceive it. The adage, “Thatit is best not to be born at all, or to die as soon as possible,” has certainly been long since received by the common consent of almost all men. Finally, carnal reason judges either that all mankind without exception are miserable, or that fortune is more favorable to ungodly and wicked men than to the good. To the sentiment that those are blessed who fear the Lord, it has an entire aversion, as I have declared at length on Psalm 37. So much the more requisite then is it to dwell upon the consideration of this truth. Farther, as this blessedness is not apparent to the eye, it is of importance, in order to our being able to apprehend it., first to attend to the definition which will ]be given of it by and bye, and secondly, to know that it depends chiefly upon the protection of God. Although we collect together all the circumstances which seem to contribute to a happy life, surely nothing will be found more desirable than to be kept hidden under the guardianship of God. If this blessing is, in our estimation, to be preferred, as it deserves, to all other good things, whoever is persuaded that the care of God is exercised about the world and human affairs, will at the same time unquestionably acknowledge that what is here laid down is the chief point of happiness.
But before I proceed farther, it is to be noticed that in the second part of the verse there is with good reason added a mark by which the servants of God are distinguished from those who despise him. We see how the most depraved, with no less pride than audacity and mockery, boast of fearing God. The Prophet therefore requires the attestation of the life as to this; for these two things, the fear of God and the keeping of his law, are inseparable; and the root must necessarily produce its corresponding fruit. Farther, we learn from this passage that our life does not meet with the divine approbation, except it be framed according to the divine law. There is unquestionably no religion without the fear of God, and from this fear the Prophet represents our living according to the commandment and ordinance of God as proceeding.
2.For when thou shalt eat the labor of thy hands thou shalt be blessed.Some divide this sentence into two members, reading these words, For thou shalt eat the labor of thy hands, as a distinct sentence, and then what follows, Thou shalt be blessed, as the beginning of a new sentence. I indeed grant that it is true, as they assert, that the grace of God, manifested in the faithful enjoying the fruits of their labor is set in opposition to the curse to which all mankind have been subjected. But it is more natural to read the words as one sentence, bringing out this meaning — That God’s children are happy in eating the fruits of their labor; for if we make them two sentences, these words, thou, shalt be blessed, and it shall be well with thee, would contain a cold and even an insipid repetition. Here the Prophet, confirming the doctrine stated in the first verse, teaches us that we ought to form a different estimate of what happiness consists hi from that formed by the world, which makes a happy life to consist in ease, honors, and great wealth. He recalls God’s servants to the practice of moderation, which almost all men refuse to exercise. How few are to be found who, were it left to their own choice, would desire to live by their own labor; yea, who would account it a singular benefit to do so! No sooner is the name of happiness pronounced, than instantly every man breaks forth into the most extravagant ideas of what is necessary to it, so insatiable a gulf is the covetousness of the human heart. The Prophet therefore bids the fearers of God be content with this one thing — with the assurance that having God for their foster-father, they shall be suitably maintained by the labor of their own hands; just as it is said in <193410>Psalm 34:10,
“The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger; but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.”
We must remember that the Prophet does not speak of the highest blessedness, which consists not in meat and drink, nor is confined within the narrow bounds of this transitory life; but he assures God’s believing people that even in this pilgrimage or earthly place of sojourn they shall enjoy a happy life, in so far as the state of the world will permit; even as Paul declares that God promises both these to such as fear him, in other words, that God will take care of us during the whole course of our life, until he has at last brought us to eternal glory. (<540408>1 Timothy 4:8.) The change of person serves also to give greater emphasis to the language; for after having),’ spoken in the third person, the Prophet comes to address his discourse to. each individual in particular, to this effect: — Not only does immortal felicity await thee in heaven, but during thy pilgrimage in this world God will not cease to perform the office of the father of a family in maintaining thee, so that thy daily food will be administered to thee by his hand, provided thou art contented with a lowly condition.
3.Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine on the sides of thy house.Here again it is promised, as in the preceding Psalm, that God will make those who honor him fruitful in a numerous offspring. The majority of mankind indeed desire to have issue, and this desire may be said to be implanted in them by nature; but many, when they have obtained children, soon become cloyed therewith. Again it is often more grateful to want children than to leave a number of them hi circumstances of destitution. But although the world is carried away by irregular desires after various objects, between which it is perpetually fluctuating in its choice, God gives this his own blessing, the preference to all riches, and therefore we ought to hold it in high estimation. If a man has a wife of amiable manners as the companion of his life, let him set no less value upon this blessing than Solomon did, who, in <201914>Proverbs 19:14, affirms that it is God alone who gives a good wife. In like manner, if a man be a father of a numerous offspring, let him receive that goodly boon with a thankful heart. If it is objected that the Prophet in speaking thus, detains the faithful on the earth by the allurements of the flesh, and hinders them from aspiring towards heaven with free and unencumbered minds, I answer, that it is not surprising to find him offering to the Jews under the law a taste of God’s grace and paternal favor, when we consider that they were like children. He has, however, so tempered, or mixed it, as that by it; they might rise in their contemplations to the heavenly life. Even at the present day God, though in a more sparing manner, testifies his favor by temporal benefits, agreeably to that passage in Paul’s first Epistle to Timothy just now quoted, (<540408>1 Timothy 4:8,)
But by this he does not cast any hindrance or impediment in our way to keep us from elevating our minds to heaven, but ladders are by this means rather erected to enable us to mount up thither step by step. The Prophet, therefore, very properly reminds the faithful that they already receive some fruit of their integrity, when God gives them their food, makes them happy in their wives and children, and condescends to take care of their life. But his design in commending the present goodness of God is to animate them to hasten forward with alacrity on the path which leads to their eternal inheritance. If the earthly felicity described in this Psalm may not always be the lot of the godly, but should it sometimes happen that their wife is a termagant, or proud, or of depraved morals, or that their children are dissolute and vagabonds, and even bring disgrace upon their father’s house, let them know that their being deprived of God’s blessing is owing to their having repulsed it by their own fault. And surely if each duly considers his own vices he will acknowledge that God’s earthly benefits have been justly withheld from him.
4. Lo! surely, thus blessed shall be the man who feareth Jehovah. 5. Jehovah shall bless thee from Zion; and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life: 6. And thou shalt see thy children’s children, and peace upon Israel.
4.Lo! surely, thus blessed shall be the man who feareth Jehovah.The preceding doctrine, that even in the outward condition of God’s servants while in this transitory state there is afforded such evidence of the divine favor and goodness as demonstrates that we do not lose our labor in serving him, is here confirmed by the Prophet. Yet as the reward of godliness does not appear eminently conspicuous, he, in the first place, uses the demonstrative particle, Lo! fe105and then adds surely; for so I interpret the particle yk, ki. We must, however, always remember, as I have previously noticed, that the divine blessing is promised to us upon earth in such a way as that it may not engross our thoughts and keep them grovelling in the dust; for it is not meet that our hope of the life to come should be stifled. This is the reason why we do not at all times equally enjoy the benefits of God.
5.Jehovah shall bless thee from Zion.Some, would have this sentence to be a prayer, and therefore they resolve the future tense into the optative mood. But it seems rather to be a continued statement of the same doctrine previously dwelt on, the Prophet now expressing more plainly that the benefits which he has recounted are to be ascribed to God as their author. Although the gifts of God often present themselves before our eyes, yet through the obscurity which false imaginations throw around them our perception of them is dim and imperfect. Hence this repetition of the sentiment, That whenever true believers meet with any prosperous events in the course of their life, it is the effect of the divine blessing, is not to be deemed superfluous. The persons described are said to be blessed from Zion, to lead them to call to remembrance the covenant into which God had entered with them, for he had graciously promised to be favorable to the observers of his law; and these principles of godliness they had imbibed from their infancy. The Prophet, therefore, declares that it is no novel doctrine or something before unheard of which he adduces, the law having long ago taught them that it is made manifest even by the temporary benefits conferred on those who serve God, that the pains taken in serving him are not thrown away; and he affirms that of this they shall actually have the experience. What is added concerning the good of Jerusalemis to be regarded as en-joining upon the godly the duty not only of seeking their own individual welfare, or of being devoted to their own peculiar interests, but rather of having it as chief desire to see the Church of God in a flourishing condition. It would be a very unreasonable thing for each member to desire what may be profitable for itself, while in the meantime the body was neglected. From our extreme proneness to err in that respect, the Prophet, with good reason, recommends solicitude about the public welfare; and he mingles together domestic blessings and the common benefits of the Church in such a way as to show us that they are things joined together, and which it is unlawful to put asuader.
This Psalm teaches, in the first place, that God subjects his Church to divers troubles and affections, to the end he may the better prove himself her deliverer and defender. The Psalmist, therefore, recalls to the memory of the faithful how sadly God’s people had been persecuted in all ages, and how wonderfully they had been preserved, in order by such examples to fortify their hope in reference to the future. In the second part, under the form of an imprecation, he shows that the divine vengeance is ready to fall upon all the ungodly, who without cause distress the people of God.
A Song of Degrees.
1. They have often afflicted me from my youth, let Israel now say: 2. They have often afflicted me from my youth; but they have not prevailed against me. 3. The ploughers have plouched upon my back, and made long their furrows. fe1064. But Jellovah who is righteous, hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked.
1.They have often afflicted me from my youth.This Psalm was probably composed at a time when the Church of God, reduced to a state of extreme distress, or dismayed by some great danger, or oppressed with tyranny, was on the verge of total destruction. This conjecture, I conceive, is supported by the adverb of time, now, which appears to me to be emphatic. It is as if the Prophet; had said, When God’s faithful ones are with difficulty drawing their breath under the burden of temptations, it is a seasonable time for them to reflect on the manner in which he has exercised his people from the beginning, and from age to age. As soon as God has given loose reins to our enemies to do as they please we are distressed with sorrow, and our thoughts are wholly engrossed with the evils which presently harass us. Hence proceeds despair; for we do not remember that the patience of the fathers was subjected to the like trial, and that nothing happens to us which they did not experience. It is then an exercise eminently fitted to comfort true believers to look back to the conflicts of the Church in the days of old, in order thereby to know that she has always labored under the cross, and has been severely afflicted by the unrighteous violence of her enemies. The most probable conjecture which occurs to me at present is, that this Psalm was written after the Jews had returned from the Babylonish captivity, and when, having suffered many grievous and cruel injuries at the hands of their neighbors, they hadn’t length almost fainted under the tyranny of Antiochus Epiphanes. In this dark and troublous state of matters, the Prophet encourages the faithful to fortitude, nor does he address himself to a few of them only, but to the whole body without exception; and in order to their sustaining such fierce assaults, he would have them to oppose to them a hope inspired by the encouraging consideration, that the Church, by patient endurance, has uniformly proved victorious. Almost every word is emphatic. Let Israel now say, that is, let him consider the trials of the Church in ancient times, from which it may be gathered, that the people of God have never been exempted from bearing the cross, and yet that the various afflictions by which they have been tried have always had a happy issue. In speaking of the enemies of Israel simply by the pronoun they, without being more specific, the Psalmist aggravates the greatness of the evil more than if he had expressly named the Assyrians or the Egyptians. By not specifying any particular class of foes, he tacitly intimates that the world is fraught with innumerable bands of enemies, whom Satan easily arms for the destruction of good men, his object being that new wars may arise continually on every side. History certainly bears ample testimony that the people of God had not to deal with a few enemies, but that they were assaulted by almost the whole world; and farther, that theywere molested not only by external foes, but also by those of an internal kind, by such as professed to belong to the Church.
The term youthhere denotes their first beginnings, fe106A and refers not only to the time when God brought the people out of Egypt, but also to the time when he wearied Abraham and the patriarchs during almost their whole life, by keeping them in a condition of painful warfare. If these patriarchs were strangely driven about in the land of Canaan, the lot of their descendants was still worse during the time of their sojourning in Egypt, when they were not only oppressed as slaves, but loaded with every kind of reproach and ignominy. At their departure from that land we know what difficulties they had to encounter. If in tracing their history from that period we find seasons in which some respite was granted them, yet they were not in a state of repose for any length of time, until the reign of David. And although during his reign they appeared to be in a prosperous condition, yet soon after troubles and even. defeats arose, which threatened the people of God with total destruction. In the Babylonish captivity, all hope being well-nigh extinguished, they seemed as if hidden in the grave and undergoing the process of putrefaction. After their return they obtained, with difficulty, some brief intermission to take their breath. They were certainly often put; to the sword, until the race of them was almost wholly destroyed. To prevent it, therefore, from being supposed that they had received only some slight hurt, they are justly said to have been afflicted; as if the Prophet placed them before our eyes as it were half-dead, through the treatment of their enemies, who, seeing them prostrated under their feet, scrupled not to tread upon them. If we come to ourselves, it will be proper to add the horrible persecutions, by which the Church would have been consumed a thousand times, had not God, by hidden and mysterious means, preserved her, raising her as it were from the dead. Unless we have become stupid under our calamities, the distressing circumstances of this unhappy age will compel us to meditate on the same doctrine.
When the Prophet says twice, they have afflicted me, they have afflicted me, the repetition is not superfluous, it being intended to teach us that the people of God had not merely once or twice to enter the conflict, but that their patience had been tried by continual exercises. He had said that they had commenced this conflict from their youth, intimating that they had been inured to it from their first origin, in order to their being accustomed to bear the cross. He now adds, that their being subjected to this rigorous training was not without good reason, inasmuch as God had not ceased, by a continued course, to make use of these calamities for subduing them to himself. If the exercises of the Church, during her state of childhood, were so severe, our effeminacy will be very shameful indeed, if in the present day, when the Church, by the coming of Christ, has reached the age of manhood, we are found wanting in firmness for enduring trials. Matter of consolation is laid down in the last clause, which informs us that the enemies of Israel, after having tried all methods, never succeeded in realizing their wishes, God having always disappointed their hopes, and baffled their attempts.