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153. Behold my affliction and rescue me. The Psalmist teaches by his own example that those who are devoted to the service and fear of God, must not be discouraged though they are not rewarded for it in this world. Their condition upon earth is one of warfare, and therefore they should not be dismayed by diversity, but rather rest satisfied with the consolatory consideration, that the gate of prayer is open to them. Yet the Prophet does not boast of his, endeavors to keep the law, as if he would have God to pay him wages for his service, but only to show that he was one of God’s servants, just as he has spoken of his hope that he was so in other places. This reason, for I have not forgotten thy law, on account of which he beseeches God to consider his affliction and to rescue him, is peculiarly forcible in the present case; for it is an evidence of no ordinary courage when, instead of being led away from the fear of God by adversity, we wrestle against temptations and seek him even when he seems purposely to drive us away from him.

154. Debate thy cause, and redeem me. In this verse David specifics the kind of his affliction, which was the wrongful and harassing treatment which he met with at the hands of evil and unprincipled men. The reading literally is, Plead my cause, which is the same thing as to undertake a cause, or to take the charge of defending one in judgment, or to maintain the right of the oppressed. In the first place the Prophet in invoking God to defend his cause, shows that he is wrongfully oppressed, either by violence, calumnies, or crafty policies; and in seeking to be redeemed, he intimates that he was unable to make any resistance, or that he was so entangled in their snares, as to have no remaining hope except in the deliverance of God. In the second clause the letter l, lamed, seems to be taken for the letter k, caph, the mark of similitude, fe29 as would appear from his having used a little before (Psalm 119:149) a similar form of prayer. Again, as David here complains that he is held as it were in fetters by his enemies, unless he is delivered by the hand of his Redeemer, he with good reason beseeches God to restore him to life; for he who is rims abased is like a person dead. It is also aptly added according to thy word; for it is from the promises which God makes in his word of becoming our deliverer that the hope of life shines upon us. Whence the Prophet, when earnestly desiring to be brought from darkness to light, sustains and encourages himself by the word. If a different sense is preferred, then David is not to be understood as simply asking that life may be given him, but as praying for spiritual life, that he may be encouraged to exercise faith, to cultivate the fear of God, and to cherish the desire of living a holy life.

155. Safety is far from the wicked. Fully persuaded that the world is governed by the secret providence of God, who is a just judge, the Prophet draws from that source the doctrine, That the wicked are far removed from safety, and safety from them. Hence proceeds the confidence of prayer; for as God is turned away from the despisers of his word, so he is ready to succor his servants. It is to be noticed, that when the Prophet saw that his enemies were elated by their prosperity, he on the contrary lifted up his heart by faith that thus he might come to the settled persuasion that all their delights were cursed and tended to destruction. Whenever then the wicked prosper in the world according to their wishes, so that being pampered to the full they exult in their own fatness, let us learn, in order to defend ourselves, to lay hold upon this buckler which the Holy Spirit is holding out to us, namely, that they shall at length miserably perish, because they seek not the commandments of God. From this we draw a contrary doctrine, That although genuine believers, whilst they walk sincerely in the fear of God may be as sheep appointed to the slaughter, yet their salvation, which is under the special care and protection of God’s secret providence, is just at hand. In this sense the Prophet adds in the following verse,

156. O Jehovah,! thy tender mercies are many; as if he had said that no offenders are safe but those who betake themselves to the divine mercy. Farther, to encourage himself to approach God with the greater confidence, he not only says that God is merciful, but he mightily magnifies and extols his compassion’s. From this we gather that he was so contented with them, as not to seek any aid from his own merits. It is however at the same time to be noted, that the Prophet was far from being lightly troubled with many temptations, seeing he was forced to oppose to them this vast abundance of mercy. It makes little difference whether we read great or many. The prayer which follows, Quicken me according to thy judgments, I explain as referring to the promises. The original word for judgment is by some translated manner or custom; but I have already shown above that such a translation is less suitable than the other. The Prophet then again confirms the truth, That life cannot be hoped for or asked from God, unless hope is produced by his word; and he often repeats this truth, because it is one of which we are marvelously forgetful. But that we may boldly appropriate to ourselves all the grace which God promises to his servants, let the doctrine of the great and manifold tender mercies of God be ever present to our thoughts. If we imagine that God makes his promises because he is bound to do it, or because we have deserved it, doubting or mistrust will steal upon our minds, which will shut the gate against our prayers. But if we are thoroughly persuaded that the sole cause by which God is moved to promise us salvation is the mercy inherent in his own nature, we will approach him without hesitation or doubt, because he has bound himself to us of his own accord.

157. My persecutors and oppressors are many. The Psalmist here as in other places testifies, that although lie had been provoked by many injuries, yet he had not departed from the right way; which, as I have elsewhere observed, was an evidence of great and singular constancy. It is an easy matter to act well when we are among the good; but if wicked men afflict us, if one man openly assault us by force, if another rob us of our property, if a third circumvent us by wiles, and a fourth attack us by calumnies, it is difficult for us to persevere in our integrity, and we rather begin to howl among the wolves. Besides, the license which is allowed them of doing what they please without the fear of being punished, is a powerful engine for shaking our faith, because, when God thus winks at the wicked, he seems to abandon us for a prey. The Prophet therefore, by God’s testimonies, means not only the rule of holy and righteous living, but also the promises. Lord, as if he had said, I have not turned away from the path of integrity, although the conduct of the wicked has presented me with a temptation to do so; nor have I shaken off nay confidence in thy grace, but have waited patiently for thy succor. Both these are necessary. For although he who has suffered wrongs may contend against the malice of his enemies by his well — doing, and may refrain from every act of retaliation, yet, provided he does not depend wholly upon God,. this uprightness will not be sufficient to save him. :Not that any man behaves himself in a manner so moderate, except he who leans upon God and waits upon him as his deliverer; but granting that such could be the ease, there would not be sufficient power in this half virtue to save him. The salvation of God is reserved for the faithful who ask it in the exercise of lively faith. And whoever, persuaded that God will be his deliverer, pillars and supports his mind on the divine promises, will endeavor also to overcome evil with good.

158. I saw the perfidious and child them. In this verse the Psalmist proceeds yet farther, declaring that he was inflamed with a holy zeal when he saw the law of God despised by the wicked. Expositors are not however agreed as to one word in the text, namely the verb hffwqta, ethkotatah, which we have rendered chid, some deriving it from fwq, kut, which often signifies to debate or contend with, it being in the conjugation hithpael, while others derive it from ffq karat, which signifies to kill or to destroy. I adopt the former interpretation, because it is more generally received among the learned, and is most appropriate. The Prophet then teaches that he was inflamed with such zeal for the law of God that he could no longer endure the impious mockery directed against it. The verb debate may however be understood as well of the vexation or anger which he felt in himself, as of the rebuke which he openly administered to the despisers of God; and therefore some translate it, I shuddered, or I was grieved fe30 Nor assuredly will any person enter into debate with others for maintaining the glory of God, but he who is first chafed within himself, and has been grieved at heart; even as on the other hand, after this holy indignation there almost always follows transitive action; that is to say, it passes from the thought to the effect. fe31 In short, we are admonished by the example of the Prophet, that we ought to feel such displeasure at the contempt of God’s word as that our heart grows hot even to chiding. In the first place, then, let grief affect us inwardly; and next, whenever opportunity shall present itself, let; us strenuously endeavor to repress the forwardness and pride of the wicked, and let us not hesitate to do so from the fear of provoking their resentment against us.

159. Behold, O Jehovah how I have loved thy commandments. What I have state before must be remembered — that when the saints speak of their own piety before God they are not chargeable with obtruding their own merits as the ground of their confidence; but they regard this as, a settled principle, that God, who distinguishes his servants from the profane and wicked, will be merciful to them because they seek him with their whole heart. Besides, an unfeigned love of God’s law is an undoubted evidence of adoption, since this love is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Prophet, therefore, although he arrogates nothing to himself, very properly adduces his own piety for the purpose, of encouraging himself to entertain the more assured hope of obtaining his request, through the grace of God which he had experienced. At the same time we are taught that there can be no true keeping of the law but what springs from free and spontaneous love. God demands voluntary sacrifices, and the commencement of a good life is to love him, as Moses declares, (<051012>Deuteronomy 10:12,)

“And now, O Israel! what doth the Lord require of thee,

but to love him.”

The same thing is also repeated in the summary of the law: (<050605>Deuteronomy 6:5,) “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” For this reason David has previously stated, that the law of God was not only precious but also delightful to him. Now as in keeping the law it behoves us to begin with voluntary obedience, so that nothing may delight us more than the righteousness of God, so on the other hand, it must not be forgotten that a sense of the free goodness of God and of his fatherly love is indispensably necessary in order to our hearts being beheld to this affection. So far are the bare commandment’s from winning men to obey them, that they rather frighten them away. Hence it is evident, that it is only when a man shall have tasted the goodness of God from the teaching of the law, that he will apply his heart to love it in return. The frequency with which the Prophet repeats the prayer, that God would quicken him, teaches us that he knew well the frailty of his own life, so that in his estimation men live only in so far as God every moment breathes life into them. Besides, it is probable that he had been continually besieged by many deaths, to the end he might the more earnestly betake himself to the fountain of life. He again rests his faith upon the goodness of God as its foundation — quicken me according to thy loving-kindness — from which we perceive how far he was from boasting of his own merits when he protested in the preceding sentence that he loved God’s law.

160. The beginning of thy word is truth. The design of the Prophet it is not difficult to perceive; but the words admit of being understood in two ways. Some interpret the noun beginning as denoting that the truth of God shines forth conspicuously in his word, immediately when we enter for the first time upon the study of it, so that this entrance may justly be called the beginning of the word. This sentence contains the profitable doctrine, that if we are finished with eyes of understanding, we will no sooner cast our eyes upon heavenly doctrine than the truth of it will meet our view. Others, however, give a different explanation, and perhaps with no less propriety, eliciting this sense, That the word of God has been from the beginning certain and infallible truth, and will continue so even to the end. These two clauses hang very well together — that God has been true to his word from the beginning, and that he will continue to be so everlastingly and immutably. The interpretation which refers the word judgment to the works of God and not to his doctrine, I would not altogether condemn, yet it is not in harmony with the context. Let us then retain this sense, That from the time when God began to speak he has always been faithful to his promises, and has never disappointed the hope of his people; and that the course of this faithfulness has been so uniform, that from the beginning even to the end his word is true and faithful.

Psalm 119:161-168

161. ç Princes have persecuted me without a cause; yet my heart hath beer, afraid at thy word 162. ç I have rejoiced at thy word as one who hath found great spoil. 163. ç I have hated and abhorred deceit; but I have loved thy law. 164. ç Seven times a day have I praised thee, because of thy righteous judgments. fe32 165. ç Great peace have them that love thy law, and there will be no stumbling-block for them. fe33 166. ç Jehovah I have waited for thy salvation and have done thy commandments. 167. ç My soul hath kept thy testimonies, and I have loved them exceeding. 168. ç I have kept thy commandments and thy testimonies; for all my ways are before thee.

161. Princes have persecuted me without a cause. fe34 Here the Psalmist, informs us that sore and grievous as his temptation had been, he was restrained by the fear of God from desiring to attempt anything unworthy of the character of a godly man. We are prone to fall into despair when princes who are armed with power to overwhelm us are hostile to and molest us. The evil is also aggravated from the consideration that it is the very persons who ought to be as bucklers to defend us, who employ their strength in hurting us. Yea, when the afflicted are stricken by those in high places, they in a manner think that the hand of God is against them. There was also this peculiarity in the case of the Prophet, that he had to encounter the grandees of the chosen people — men whom God had placed in such honor-able stations, to the end they might be the pillars of the Church. Some give, more restricted exposition, which is, that David followed the exhortation of Christ in <401028>Matthew 10:28,

“Fear not them who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell;”

a sentiment which although :it had not as yet been uttered by Christ’s mouth, ought nevertheless to have been fixed in the hearts of all the godly. The sense, then, in their opinion is, that the Prophet had not been turned aside from the fear of God by any of the threatening or terrors of his enemies. But his commendation of his own constancy is to be understood in a more extended sense than this. The exhortation of Isaiah is well known,

“Neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid; sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” (<230812>Isaiah 8:12,13)

The Prophet in that place shows in general what the weapons are, with which the faithful being armed will succeed in vanquishing all the assaults of the world — he shows that they will do so, provided they not only stand in awe of God, but also rest assured that he will always be the guardian of their welfare, so that they may cast all their cares upon him. Thus it will come to pass that, resting contented with his protection, they will not turn aside to practice whatever may be sinful to secure their safety. In like manner the Prophet, in the passage before us, affirms that although being oppressed by the wrongful violence of princes, he presented a sad spectacle, yet he did not succumb, but considered what was lawful for him to do, and did not attempt to rival their wicked practices, by repelling craft with craft and violence with violence. In this text, as is evident from the connection, to be afraid at God’s word, is to restrain one’s. self and to attempt nothing which is unlawful. I have already said that the adverb µnj, hinnam, without a cause, is added for the sake of amplification; for the temptation was so much the harder from the fact, that the tyrants, without cause and merely to gratify their own wicked inclination, assaulted an innocent individual. Men of a good disposition and of a noble mind, it is well known, are more easily excited to anger when the object assaulted is one who has done wrong to nobody. It was therefore a signal proof of self-control for the Prophet to bridle himself by the word of God, that he might not vie with others in evil doing, or, overcome with temptation, go out of the place which had been assigned him in the social body. Let us then learn to remain peaceable, although princes tyrannically abuse the power which God has committed to them, lest by creating insurrection we break in upon the peace and order of society.

162. I have rejoiced at thy word as one who hath found great spoil. No gain, it is well known, brings greater joy than that which conquerors acquire from the spoil of their enemies; for to the gain there is added the glory of triumph; and when profit comes on a sudden, the delight experienced is from that circumstance the greater. This is the reason why David compares the knowledge he had obtained of heavenly doctrine with spoils rather than with other riches; for by these words he intimates that his greatest joy was derived from the word of God, to which no gain however desirable could at all approach. From this was learn that he was contented with the word of God as a thing in which was all his delight, and in which he found solid felicity; which could not be, but, in the way of his first withdrawing his heart from all depraved desires. :Nor is it wonderful to find David placing the whole sum of a happy life in the word of God, in which he well knew the treasure of eternal life to be included and offered to him by means of free adoption.

163. I have hated and abhorred deceit. In this verse he declares more distinctly what I have adverted to a little before, that he was cleansed from corrupt affections that he might bestow upon the law of God such honor and estimation as it deserved. Having elsewhere met with almost the same sentence, I shall but briefly touch upon the reason why the Prophet affirms that he hated deceit before he speaks of his love and devotedness to the law. As hypocrisy is in the hearts of all men by nature, and as we are naturally prone to vanity and deceitfulness, we ought diligently to labor to purge our hearts, that the love of the law may reign in them. Now if the beginning of a good life and the first point of righteousness is to hate and abhor deceit, it follows that nothing is more excellent than integrity; for unless that virtue hold the chief place, all the other virtues speedily disappear. Nor is abhorring superfluously added to hating, the design being to teach us that it is not enough to hate falsehood with a common hatred, but that God’s children must hate it with a deadly hatred. Now if the love of the law and the hatred of falsehood are inseparably conjoined, it is a plain inference that all who are not taught in the school of God are infected with deceit and hypocrisy.

164. Seven times a day have I praised thee. By the adverb seven times, the Prophet means that he was continually or very often engaged in celebrating the praises of God; just as it is said in <202416>Proverbs 24:16, “A just man falleth seven times,” when he often falls into divers temptations. fe35 The phrase the judgments of God being in many places taken for the punishments which God inflicts upon sinners, and also sometimes applied in general to the providence by which he governs the world, some understand the Prophet as praising God because he affords such manifest proofs of his justice both in punishing the wicked and in the whole government of the world. But I rather agree with others who refer the phrase to the divine law; not that I dislike the former interpretation, but because in this psalm the great topic upon which the Psalmist chiefly insists is the commendation of God’s law. The amount then is, that when David was assiduously occupied in meditating upon the law of God, he found it distinguished by so great perfection of righteousness and wisdom, that from time to time he burst forth into the exercise of praise and thanksgiving. This diligence in praising God shows that David not only spoke reverently and honourably of the divine law, but that he accounted it an inestimable boon conferred upon the human race. It was not simply admiration which constrained him to this commendation, but a principle of gratitude; for he saw that nothing more excellent could be bestowed upon men than their being renewed to a blessed and an endless life by the incorruptible seed of heavenly truth. Yet scarcely one in a hundred of those to whom God offers this treasure puts himself to the trouble of giving God thanks for it even in an ordinary manner. On the contrary, there reigns such vile ingratitude everywhere in the world, that some scornfully reject divine truth, and others despise or slight it, while others rail and gnash their teeth against it if they find anything in it which does not please them.

165. Great peace have they who love thy law. If we take the word peace for a prosperous or happy condition of life — a sense in which the Hebrews often employ it — the word rendered stumbling-block, to correspond with it, will be used for adversity; as if it had been said, that those who love God’s law shall continually prosper and retain their position, although the whole world should fall into ruins. But a different interpretation will be equally appropriate, namely, that they have great peace, because, being persuaded that both their persons and their life are acceptable to God, they calmly repose themselves on a good conscience. This tranquil state of conscience, this serenity of mind, is justly reckoned the chief point of a happy life, that is to say it is so, when it proceeds from God’s being reconciled to us, and from his fatherly favor shining in our hearts. The Prophet justly teaches that we attain this peace from the love of the law; for whoever would make it to depend upon anything else, will be from time to time trembling at every little blast. If this sense is adopted, the word stumbling-block, in the second clause, will signify all the troubles and disquietudes of mind with which all who lean not upon God’s word are miserably distressed and tormented, and with which they are driven about either by their own depraved passions, or by the caprice of other men. But in whatever way understand these two words, peace and stumbling-block, the design of the Prophet will remain the same, which is to show, that those who are not devoted to God are miserable; for although they may applaud themselves for a time, yet they will meet with many stumbling-blocks to drive them suddenly out of their course. From the term love, we gather that this peace is not acquired by a slavish observance of the law, but proceeds from faith; for the law has no sweetness to attract us to it, unless it exhibit to us God in the character of a father, and tranquilize our minds by the assurance of eternal salvation. So far from enjoying peace, all worldly men and despisers of God are justly punished by their own depravity and obdurate rebellion; for each of them is his own executioner, and the more fiercely they rage against the word of God, the sorer are they tormented, until they bring upon themselves utter destruction. The godly, it is true, are also tormented or distressed, but this inward consolation wipes away all their sorrow, or, raising them up, enables them to surmount all stumbling-blocks, or so relieves them, that they faint not.
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