3.The ploughers have ploughed upon my back. fe107Here the Prophet, by an apparent similitude, embellishes his preceding statement respecting the grievous afflictions of the Church. He compares the people of God to a field through which a plough is drawn. He says that the furrows were made long, so that no corner was exempted from being cut up by the ploughshare. These words vividly express the fact — that the cross has always been planted on the back of the Church, to make long and wide furrows.
In the subsequent verse a ground of consolation under the same figure is subjoined, which is, that the righteous Lord hath cut asunder the cords of the wicked. The allusion is to a plough, which, as we all know, is tied with cords to the necks of the oxen. The language very aptly conveys the idea, that the wicked, — since they would never have become tired or satiated in exercising their cruelty, and also in consequence of their being well armed, — were prepared to proceed farther, but that the Lord, in a way altogether unexpected, repressed their fury, just as if a man should unyoke oxen from the plough by cutting in pieces the cords and thongs which tied them to it. Hence we perceive what is the true condition of the Church. As God would have us contentedly to take his yoke upon us, the Holy Spirit not unfitly compares us to an arable field, which cannot make any resistance to its being cut, and cleaved, and turned up by the ploughshare. Should any one be disposed to indulge in greater refinement of speculation, he might say that the field is ploughed to prepare it for receiving the seed, and that it may at length bring forth fruit. But in my opinion the subject to which the Prophet limits his attention is the afflictions of the Church. The epithet righteous, with which he honors God, must, in a suitableness to the scope of the passage, be explained as implying that, although God may seem to dissemble for a time, yet he never forgets his righteousness, so as to withhold relief from his afflicted people. Paul in like manner adduces the same reason why God will not always suffer them to be persecuted,
“Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled
rest with us.” (<530106>2 Thessalonians 1:6, 7,)
It is a point worthy of special notice, that the welfare of the Church is inseparably connected with the righteousness of God. The Prophet, also, wisely teaches us. that the reason why the enemies of the Church did not prevail, was because God brought to nothing their enterprises, and did not suffer them to go beyond what he had determined in his own mind.
5. All who hate Zion shall be confounded, and turned backward. 6. They shall be as the grass fe108 of the housetops’, which is withered before it comes forth: 7. With which the mower hath not filled his hand, nor the gleaner his bosom. fe1098. Neither have they who pass by said, ‑ The blessing of Jehovah be upon you: we bless you in the name of Jehovah. fe110
5.All who hate Zion shall be confounded, and tutored backward.Whether we take this as a prayer or a promise, the Prophet has a respect to the time to come. Since all the verbs are in the future tense, it is certainly a very appropriate interpretation to understand him as deriving from times past instruction as to what is to be hoped for in future, even to the end. In whichever way we understand the passage, he declares that the faithful have no reason to be discouraged when they behold their enemies raised on high. The grass which grows upon the house-tops is not, on account of its higher situation, more valuable than the blade of corn which in the low ground is trampled under foot; for although it stands elevated above men’s heads, it is, in the first place, unprofitable; and secondly, it quickly withers away. fe111 The verb, ãlç, shalaph, fe112which we have translate comes forth, is by some rendered, is plucked up. According to this translation the sense is, that without the hand or labor of man the grass on the house-tops is dried up. But as the verb properly signifies to be brought forth, or to come forth, the meaning, in my opinion, is that the grass’. on the housetops, so far from continuing long in a state of freshness, withers and perishes at its first springing up, because it has no root under it, nor earth to supply it with sap or moisture for its nourishment. Whenever, then, the splendor or greatness of our enemies strikes us with fear, let us bring to our recollection this comparison, that as the grass which grows upon the house-tops, though high, is yet without root, and consequently of brief duration, so these enemies, the nearer they approach the sun by the height of their pride, shall be the sooner consumed by the burning heat, since they have no root, it being humility alone which draws life and vigor from God.
7. With which the mower hath not filled his hand. fe113We have here an additional confirmation of the truth, that although the wicked mount high or elevate themselves, and form an extravagant opinion of their own importance, yet they continue mere grass, not bringing forth any good fruit, nor reaching a state of ripeness, but swelling only with fresh appearance. To make this obvious, the Psalmist sets them in opposition to fruit-bearing herbs, which in valleys and low grounds produce fruit for men. In fine, he affirms that they deserve to be hated or despised of all, whereas commonly every one in passing by the corn fields blesses them and prays for the harvest? fe114 Farther, he has borrowed this illustration of his doctrine from the affairs of ordinary life, we are taught that whenever there is a hopeful prospect of a good harvest, we ought to beseech God, whose peculiar province it is to impart fertility to the earth, that he would give full effect to his blessing. And considering that the fruits of the earth are exposed to so many hazards, it is certainly strange that we are not stirred ‘up to engage in the exercise of prayer from the absolute necessity of these to man and beast. Nor does the Psalmist, in speaking of passers by blessing the reapers, speak exclusively of rite children of God, who are truly taught by his word that the fruitfulness of the earth is owing to his goodness; but he also comprehends worldly men in whom the same knowledge is implanted naturally. In conclusion, provided we not only dwell in the Church of the Lord, but also labor to have place among the number of her genuine citizens, we will be able fearlessly to despise all fire might of our enemies; for although they may flourish and have a great outward show for a time, yet they are but barren grass, on which the curse of heaven rests.
Whether the Prophet in this Psalm prays in his own name in particular, or represents the whole Church, it is manifest, that finding himself overwhelmed with adversities, he supplicates deliverance with passionate ardor. And while acknowledging that he is justly chastised by the hand of God, he encourages himself and all genuine believers to cherish good hope, since God is the everlasting deliverer of his people, and has always in readiness the means of effecting their rescue from death.
A Song of Degrees.
1. Out of the deep places have I cried to thee, O Jehovah 2. O Lord hear voice; let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my prayers 3. If thou, O God shouldst mark iniquities, O Lord who shall stand? 4. But with thee there is forgiveness that thou mayest be feared.
1.Out of the deep places have I cried to thee, O Jehovah!It is to be noticed that the Prophet speaks of himself as sending forth his voice, as it were from out of a deep gulf, fe115 feeling himself overwhelmed with calamities. As the miseries to which there is no prospect of a termination commonly bring despair in their train, nothing is more difficult than for persons, when involved in grievous and deep sorrow, to stir up their minds to the exercise of prayer. And it is wonderful, considering that whilst we enjoy peace and prosperity we are cold in prayer, (because then our hearts are in a state of infatuated security, how in adversities, which ought to quicken us, we are still more stupefied. But the Prophet derives confidence in coming to the time one of grace from the very troubles, cares, dangers and sorrow into which he was plunged. He expresses his perplexity and the earnestness of his desire both by the word cry, and by the repetition continued in the second verse. So much the more detestable then is the barbarous ignorance of the Papist’s, in shamefully profaning this Psalm by wresting; it to a purpose wholly foreign to its genuine application. To what intent do they mumble it over for the dead, if it; is not that, in consequence of Satan having bewitched them, they may by their profanity extinguish a doctrine of singular utility? From the time that this Psalm was, by, a forced interpretation, applied to the souls of the dead, it is very generally believed to be of no use whatever to the living, and thus the world has lost an inestimable treasure.
3.If thou, O God! shoudst mark iniquities. fe116Here the Prophet acknowledges that although grievously afflicted he had justly deserved such punishment, as had been inflicted upon him. As by his own example he gives a rule which the whole Church ought to observe, let no man presume to intrude himself into the presence of God, but in the way of humbly deprecating his wrath; and especially when God exercises severity in his dealings towards us, let us know that we are required to make the same confession which is here uttered. Whoever either flatters himself or buries his sins by inattention to them, deserves to pine away in his miseries; at least he is unworthy of obtaining from God the smallest alleviation. Whenever God then exhibits the tokens of his wrath, let even the man who seems to others to be the holies of all his fellows, descend to make this confession, that should God determine to deal with us according to the strict demands of his law, and to summon us before his tribunal, not one of the whole human race would be able to stand. We grant that it is one man only who here prays, but he at once pronounces sentence upon the whole human race. “All the children of Adam,” he substantially says, “from the first to the last, are lost and condemned, should God require them to render up an account of their life.” It is therefore necessary that even the holiest of men should pass under this condemnation, that they may betake themselves to the mercy of God as their only refuge. The Prophet does not however mean to extenuate his own fault by thus involving others with himself, as we see hypocrites do, who when they dare not altogether justify themselves, resort to this subterfuge, “AmI the first or the only man who has offended?”and thus, mingling themselves with a multitude of others, they think themselves half absolved from their guilt. But the Prophet, instead of seeking to shelter himself under such a subterfuge, rather confesses, after having thoroughly examined himself, that if of the whole human race not even one can escape eternal perdition, this instead of lessening rather increased his obnoxiousness to punishment. Whoever, as if he had said, shall come into the presence of God, whatever may be his eminence for sanctity, he must succumb and stand confounded, fe117 what then will be the case as to me, who am not one of thebest? The right application of this doctrine is, for every man to examine in good earnest his own life by the perfection which is enjoined upon us in the law. In this way he will be forced to confess that all men without exception have deserved everlasting damnation; and each will acknowledge in respect to himself that he is a thousand times undone. Farther, this passage teaches us that, since no man can stand by his own works, all such as are accounted righteous before God, are righteous in consequence of the pardon and remission of their sins. In no other manner can any man be righteous in the sight of God. Very differently do the Papists think. They indeed confess that the deficiencies of our works are supplied by the lenity which God exercises towards us; but at the same time they dream of a partial righteousness, on the ground of which men may stand before God. In entertaining such an idea they go very far astray from the sense of the Prophet, as will appear more plainly from the sequel.
4.But with thee there is forgiveness.This verse leads us farther. Though all men confess with the mouth that there is no human being in the world whom God may not justly adjudge to everlasting death, should it so please him, yet how few are persuaded of the truth which the Prophet now adds, that the grace of which they stand in need shall not be denied them? They either sleep in their sins through stupidity, or fluctuate amidst a variety of doubts, and, at length, are overwhelmed with despair. This maxim, “that no man is free from sin,”is, as I have said, received among all men without dispute, and yet the majority shut their eyes to their own faults, and settle securely in hiding ‑ places to which, in their ignorance, they have betaken themselves, if they are not forcibly roused out of them, and then, when pursued close by the judgments of God, they are overwhelmed with alarm, or so greatly tormented as to fall into despair. The consequence of this want of hope in men, that God will be favorable to them, is an indifference about coming into the Divine presence to supplicate for pardon. When a man is awakened with a lively sense of the judgment of God, lie cannot fail to be humbled with shame and fear. Such self-dissatisfaction would not however suffice, unless at the same time there were added faith, whose office it is to raise up the hearts which were cast down with fear, and to encourage them to pray for forgiveness. David then acted as he ought to have done when, in order to his attaining genuine repentance, he first summons himself before God’s judgment seat; but, to preserve his confidence from failing under the overpowering influence of fear, he presently adds the hope which there was of obtaining pardon. It is, indeed, a matter which comes under our daily observation, that those who proceed not beyond the step of thinking themselves deserving of endless death, rush, like frenzied men, with great impetuosity against God. The better, therefore, to confirm himself and others, the Prophet declares that God’s mercy cannot be separated or torn away from himself. “As soon as I think upon thee,” he says in amount, “thy clemency also presents itself to my mind, so that I have no doubt that thou wilt be merciful to me, it being impossible for thee to divest thyself of thy own nature: the very fact that thou art God is to me a sure guarantee that thou wilt be merciful.”At the same time let it be understood, that he does not here speak of a confused knowledge of the grace of God, but of such a knowledge of it as enables the sinner to conclude with certainty, that as soon as he seeks God he shall find him ready to be reconciled towards him. It is not therefore surprising that among the Papists there is no steady calling upon God, when we consider that, in consequence of their mingling their own merits, satisfactions, and worthy preparation ‑ as they term it ‑ with the grace of God, they continue always in suspense and doubt respecting their reconciliation with God. Thus it comes to pass, that by praying they only augment their own sorrows and torments, just as if a man should lay wood upon a fire already kindled. Whoever would reap profit from the exercise of prayer, must necessarily begin with free remission of sins. It is also proper to mark the final cause ‑ as we say ‑ for which God is inclined to forgive, and never comes forward without showing himself easy to be pacified towards those who serve him; which is the absolute necessity of this hope of obtaining forgiveness, to the existence of piety, and the worship of God in the world. This is another principle of which the Papists are ignorant. They, indeed, make long sermons fe118 about the fear of God, but, by keeping poor souls in perplexity and doubt, they build without a foundation. The first step to the right serving of God unquestionably is, to submit ourselves to him willingly and with a free heart. The doctrine which Paul teaches concerning alms-deeds, <470907>2 Corinthians 9:7, that “God loveth a cheerful giver,” is to be extended to all parts of the life. How is it possible for any man to offer himself cheerfully to God unless he rely upon his grace, and be certainly persuaded that the obedience lie yields is pleasing to him? When this is not the case all men will rather shun God, and be afraid to appear in his presence, and if they do not altogether turn their back upon him, they will catch at subterfuges. In short, the sense of God’s judgment, unless conjoined with the hope of forgiveness, strikes men with terror, which must necessarily engender hatred. It is no doubt true, that the sinner, who, alarmed at the Divine threatenings, is tormented in himself, does not. despise God, but yet lie shuns him; and this shunning of him is downright apostasy and rebellion. Whence it follows, that men never serve God aright unless they know that he is a gracious and merciful being. The other reason to which I have adverted must also be remembered, which is, that unless we are assured that what we offer to God is acceptable to him, we will be seized with indolence and stupidity which will keep us from doing our duty. Although unbelievers often show a great deal of earnestness, just as we see the Papists laboriously occupied with their superstitions, yet, from their not being persuaded that God is reconciled to them, they do not all the while render to him any voluntary obedience. Were they not held back by a slavish fear, the horrible rebellion of their heart, which this fear keeps hidden and suppressed, would soon manifest itself externally.
5. I have waited for Jehovah, my soul hath waited; and I have hoped in his word. 6. My soul hath waited for the Lord before the watchers of the morning, idea, before the watchers of the mourning.
5.I have waited for Jehovah.After having testified in general that God is ready to show mercy to poor sinners who betake themselves to him, the Psalmist concludes that he is thereby encouraged to entertain good hope. The past tense in the verbs wait and trust is put for the present. I have waitedfor I wait; I have hoped for I hope. The repetition occurring in the first part of the verse is emphatic; and the word soul gives additional emphasis, implying, as it does, that the Prophet trusted in God even with the deepest affections of his heart. From this we also gather that he was not only patient and constant in the sight. of men, but that even in the inward feelings of his heart he had maintained quietness and patience before God; which is a very evident proof of faith. Many, no doubt, are restrained by vain glory from openly murmuring against God or betraying their distrust, but there is hardly one in ten who, when removed from the inspection of his fellow-men, and in his own heart, waits for God with a quiet mind. The Psalmist adds, in the concluding clause, that what supported his patience was the confidence which he reposed in the divine promises. Were these promises taken away, the grace of God would necessarily vanish from our sight, and thus our hearts would fail and be overwhelmed with despair. Besides, he teaches us, that our being contented with the word of God alone affords a genuine proof of our hope. When a man, embracing the word, becomes assured of having his welfare attended to by God, this assurance will be the mother of waiting or patience. Although the Prophet here speaks to himself for the purpose of confirming his faith, yet there is no doubt that he suggests to all the children of God like matter of confidence in reference to themselves. In the first place he sets before them the word, that they may depend entirely upon it; and next he warns them that faith is vain and ineffectual unless it frame us to patience.
6.My soul hath waited for the Lord before the watchers of the morning.In this verse he expresses both the ardor and the perseverance of his desire. In saying that he anticipated the watchmen, he shows by this similitude with what diligence and alacrity he breathed after God. And the repetition is a proof of his perseverance; for there is no doubt that thereby he intended to express an uninterrnitted continuance of the same course, and consequently perseverance. Both these qualities in his exercise, are worthy of attention; for it is too manifest how slow and cold we are in elevating our minds to God, and also how easily we are shaken and even fall at every little blast of wind. Farther, as the watches of the night were in ancient times usually divided into four parts, this passage may be explained as implying that as the watchmen of the night, who keep watch by turns, are careful in looking when the morning will dawn, so the Prophet looked to God with the greatest attention of mind. But the more natural sense seems to be, that as in the morning the warders of the gates are more wakeful than all other people, and are the earliest in rising, that they may appear at the posts assigned them, so the mind of the Prophet hastened with all speed to seek God. The repetition, as I have already observed:, shows that he stood keeping his gaze perseveringly fixed upon its object. We must always beware of allowing our fervor to languish through the weariness of delay, should the Lord for any length of time keep us in suspense. fe119
7. But let Israel hope in Jehovah; for with Jehovah there is mercy, and with him there is plenteous redemption. 8. And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities. fe120