9.Because of the house of Jehovah our God,etc. In this verse he adds a second reason why he cared for the Church — that he did so, because the worship of God so far from remaining entire would go to ruin unless Jerusalem continued standing. If then the salvation of our brethren is regarded by us as an object of importance, if religion is with us a matter of heart-work, we ought, at the same time, as much as in us lies, to take an interest in the prosperity of the Church. Whence it follows, that such are indifferent about her condition, are no less cruel than impious; for if she is “the pillar and foundation of truth,” the inevitable consequence of her destruction must be the extinction of true piety. And if the body is destroyed, how can each of the members fail to be involved in destruction? Farther, this passage teaches us that the Church is not an empty title, but must be sought for where the true religion prevails. Whence it appears, how foolish the Papists are, who, notwithstanding their having rejected and overthrown the doctrine of the Gospel, yet mightily boast of the name of the Church.
In this Psalm, the faithful oppressed with the cruel tyranny of their enemies, beseech God to deliver them, there being no other source of hope left for them except in his protection.
A Song of Degrees.
1. I lift up my eyes to thee, who dwellest in the heavens. 2. Behold! as the eyes of servants look fe75 to the hand of their roadsters; as the eyes of a handmaid look to the hand of her mistress, so do our eyes to Jehovah our God, until he have mercy upon us. 3. Have mercy upon us O Jehovah have mercy upon us; for we are greatly cloyed with reproach. 4. Our soul is in itself greatly cloyed with the mockery of men who are rich, and with the contempt of the proud.
1.I lift my eyes to thee, who dwellest in the heavens.It is uncertain at what time, or even by what Prophet, this Psalm was composed. I do not think it probable that David was its author; because, when he bewails the persecutions which he suffered in the time of Saul, it is usual with him to inter-pose some particular references to himself. My opinion, then, rather is, that this form of prayer was composed for all the godly by some Prophet, either when the Jews were captives in Babylon, or when Antiochus Epiphanes exercised towards them the most relentless cruelty. Be this as it may, the Holy Spirit, by whose inspiration the Prophet delivered it to the people, calls upon us to have recourse to God, when — ever wicked men unrighteously and proudly persecute, not one or two of the faithful only, but the whole body of the Church. Moreover, God is here expressly called the God who dwelleth in the heavens, not simply to teach his people to estimate the divine power as it deserves, but also that, when no hope of aid is left for them on earth, yea rather, when their condition is desperate, just as if they were laid in the grave, or as if they were lost in a labyrinth, they should then remember that the power of God remains in heaven in unimpaired and infinite perfection. Thus these words seem to contain a tacit contrast between the troubled and confused state of this world and God’s heavenly kingdom, from whence he so manages and governs all things, that whenever it pleases him, he calms all the agitations of the world, comes to the rescue of the desperate and the despairing, restores light by dispelling darkness, and raises up such as were cast down and laid prostrate on the ground. This the Prophet confirms by the verb lift up; which intimates, that although all worldly resources fail us, we must raise our eyes upward to heaven, where God remains unchangeably the same, despite the mad impetuosity of men in turning all things here below upside down.
2.Behold as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters.This similitude is very suitable to the present case. It implies that without the protection of God true believers have no comfort, are completely disarmed and exposed to all manner of wrongs, have neither strength nor courage to resist; in short, that their safety depends entirely upon aid derived from another. We know how shamefully servants were treated in ancient times, and what reproaches might be cast upon them, whilst yet they durst not move a finger to repel the outrage. Being therefore deprived of all means of defending themselves, the only thing which remained for them to do was, what is here stated, to crave the protection of their masters. The same explanation is equally applicable to the case of handmaids. Their condition was indeed shameful and degrading; but there is no reason why we should be ashamed of, or offended at being compared to slaves, provided God is our defender, and takes our life under his guardianship; God, I say, who purposely disarms us and strips us of all worldly aid, that we may learn to rely upon his grace, and to be contented ‘with it alone. It having been anciently a capital crime for bond-men to carry a sword or any other weapon about them, and as they were exposed to injuries of every description, their masters were wont to defend them with so much the more spirit, when any one causelessly did them violence. Nor can it be doubted that God, when he sees us placing an exclusive dependence upon his protection, and renouncing all confidence in our own resources, will as our defender encounter, and shield us from all the molestation that shall be offered to us. It is, however, certain that we have here properly the description of a period in which the people of God were reduced to a state of extreme necessity, and brought even to the brink of despair. As to the word hand, it is very well known to be put for help. fe74A
3.Have mercy upon us, O Jehovah! etc. The Psalmist prosecutes and confirms the preceding doctrine. He had said that the godly, finding themselves utterly broken in spirit and cast down, intently directed their eyes to the hand of God: now he adds that they are filled with reproach. From this we learn that the wicked not only assaulted them by such ways of violence as suggested themselves to their minds, but that by their mockery they as it were trampled under foot the children of God. The repetition of the prayer, Have mercy upon us,which is a sign of vehement and ardent desire, indicates that they were reduced to the last degree of misery. When insult is added to wrongs, there is nothing which inflicts a deeper wound upon well constituted minds. The Prophet therefore complains chiefly of that, as if it were the consummation of all calamities. He says that rich and proud mentreated the Church with insolent triumph; for it commonly happens that those who are elevated hi the world, look down with contempt upon the people of God. The lustre of their he. hour and power dazzles their eyes, so that they make no account of God’s spiritual kingdom: yea, the more the wicked prosper and are smiled on by fortune, to the greater extent does their pride swell, and the more violently does it throw off its foam. This passage teaches us, that it is no new thing for the Church to be held in contempt by the children of this world who abound in riches. The epithet proudis justly applied to the same persons who are described as rich; for wealth engenders pride of heart. Farther, as we see that in old time the Church of God was covered with reproaches, and pointed at with the finger of scorn, we ought not to be discouraged if the world despise us, nor should we allow our faith to be shaken by the wicked when they assault us with their scoffs, yea, even defame us with their injurious and insulting language. We must always bear in mind what is here recorded, that the heart not of one man only, or of a few, but of the whole Church, was filled not merely with the violence, cruelty, craft, and other evil doings of the wicked, but also with reproaches and mockery. It is also to be remembered, that all the loftiness and pride existing in the world are here represented as in opposition to the Church, so that she is accounted as nothing better than “thefilth of the world and the offscouring of all things,” as the Apostle Paul declares in 1 Corinthians. 4:13. When the same thing happens to us at the present day, let us leave the wicked to swell with their pride until they burst; and let it suffice us to know, that we are notwithstanding precious in the sight of God. By the verb cloy, especially as it is emphatically repeated, the Prophet intended to express a long continued oppression, which filled the hearts of the godly with weariness and sorrow. How necessary the lesson taught in this text is in our own day, it requires no lengthened discussion to demonstrate. We see the Church destitute of all worldly protection, and lying under the feet of her enemies, who abound in riches, and are armed with dreadful power. We see the Papists boldly rising up, and with all their might pouring forth their mockeries against us and the whole service of God. On the other hand, there are mingled amongst us, and flying about everywhere, Epicureans, who deride our simplicity. There are also many giants, who overwhelm us with reproaches; and this baseness has lasted from the time that the Gospel began to emerge from the corruption’s of Popery even to the present day. What then remains to be done, but that, finding ourselves environed with darkness on all sides, we seek the light of life in heaven? and that our soul, although it may be filled to satiety with all kinds of reproaches, breathe forth prayers to God for deliverance with the importunity of the famished?
The Church having been providentially delivered from extreme peril, David exhorts true believers to thanksgiving, and teaches them by this memorable example, that their safety depends solely upon the grace and power of God.
A Song of Degrees of David.
1. But for Jehovah, who was on our side, may Israel now say; 2. But for Jehovah who was on our side, when men rose up against us; 3. They had then swallowed us up alive, when their wrath was kindled against us; 4. The waters had then overwhelmed us, the torrent had gone over our soul: 5. The proud waters fe75A had then gone over our soul.
1.But for Jehovah, who was on our side.Some expositors think that this Psalm describes the very sad and calamitous condition of the Church when the, residue of the people were carried away into Babylon. This opinion is, however, without any good foundation for the complaints made, apply with equal propriety to the persecutions which the Church suffered under the tyranny of Antiochus Epiphanes. It is another objection to this interpretation, that the Psalm bears in its inscription the name of David, and historically recounts the deliverance which the people had obtained from extreme danger by the power of God. To get quit of this difficulty they observe, that what had not yet come to pass is described prophetically; but this is a forced conjecture, for the Prophets usually speak of things to come in a different manner. It is more probable that David here sets forth a known history, and exhorts the faithful to reflect upon the divine succor which they had already actually experienced. I dare not, however, limit what is here spoken to David’s time. It is indeed true that the heathen nations often waged war against the people of God, armed with such power as to come rushing upon them with the impetuosity of a deluge; but as David does not specify any particular instance, he is not, I conceive, to be understood as celebrating only some one deliverance, but in general all the instances in which God had succoured his Church. The heathen at many different times, as is well known, rose up against the Church, with such mighty hosts, that she was brought almost to the verge of destruction. David then represents as in a mirror the uncertain and changeable condition of the Church, just such as it had been from the beginning, to teach the faithful that its stability had not been owing to its own intrinsic strength, but that it had been preserved by the wonderful grace of God; and to habituate them to call upon God in the midst of dangers.
2.But for Jehovah who was on our side.It is not without cause that he twice repeats the same sentence. So long as we are in danger our fear is immoderate; but no sooner are we delivered than we lessen the greatness of our calamity, and Satan, deceiving us by this artifice, leads us to obscure the grace of God. Since then, after having been wonderfully preserved by the Lord, we for the most part devise all sorts of imaginary circumstances, in order to efface from our minds the remembrance of his grace, David, by introducing the people as struck with amazement, purposely dwells upon the amplification of the danger. In these words a bridle is put upon us, to keep us meditating upon our dangers, lest the sense of God’s grace should vanish from our minds. The common translation, Had not the Lord been on our side, does not sufficiently express David’s meaning; for he affirms that the deliverance and the salvation of the people proceeded from nothing else than God’s succor, and at the same time shows that this succor was both certain and evident. Two things then are here to be distinctly noticed; first, that the Lord had been at hand to afford aid to his servants, and had taken their part; and secondly, that being already in a desperate condition, they could not by help from any other quarter, or in another manner, have escaped from danger. Thus we are taught, that men then only ascribe the glory of their preservation to God, when they are persuaded of his being so favourably inclined towards them as to defend them and maintain them safe. In the second clause there is extolled in high terms the infinite power of God, of which he had given abundant proof in delivering the people, to teach us that such a manner of preserving does not belong to man. By the noun µda, adam, which when it is collective signifies men in general, David seems to denote a vast number of enemies. The people of God, as if he had said, had not to contend merely against a few men, or against one nation, but were assailed by almost the whole world; it being abundantly manifest that all mankind were the enemies of the Jews.
When he says, (<19C403>Psalm 124:3,) They had swallowed us up alive, fe76he not only expresses barbarous cruelty, but also disproportion of strength. He describes then in the first place how violent was the onset of the enemy, and secondly, how feeble and inadequate the Jews were to withstand them, since these cruel beasts had no need of swords for slaughter, but without a battle or an effort of strength, could easily devour that unwarlike and defenceless flock.
4.The waters had then overwhelmed us.He embellishes by an elegant metaphor the preceding sentiment, comparing the dreadful impetuosity of the enemies of the Jews to an inundation, which swallows up whatever it meets with in its overflowing course. And he continues to preserve the character of a man affrighted. He names the waters, next the torrent, thirdly, the proudor impetuous waters. He says, over us, and over our soul, as if, by presenting the thing to the eye, he intended to strike terror into the people. And certainly this impassioned language ought to have all the effect of a graphic representation, that the faithful might the better feel from what a profound gulf they had been rescued by the hand of God. He only truly attributes his deliverance to God, who acknowledges himself to have been lost before he was delivered. The adverb them is here either demonstrative, as if the Psalmist had pointed to the thing with the finger, or it is taken for long ago. The former signification is, however, more suitable to the present passage.
6. Blessed be Jehovah! who gave us not for a prey to their teeth fe777. Our soul has been rescued as a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare has been broken, and we have been delivered fe788. Our help is in the name of Jehovah, who made heaven and earth.
6.Blessed be Jehovah!The Psalmist now exhorts the godly to a grateful acknowledgment of the divine goodness, and as it were puts words into their mouth. Here also he shows by another similitude, that it would have been all over with them had not God succoured them; affirming that they were delivered not otherwise than if some one had plucked the prey from the teethof a wild and cruel beast. Of the same import is the third similitude, That they were on all sides entrapped and entangled in the snares of their enemies, even as little birds caught in the net lie stretched under the hand of the fowler; and that when they were delivered, it was just as if one should set at liberty birds which had been taken. The amount is, that the people of God, feeble, without counsel, and destitute of aid, had not only to deal with blood-thirsty and furious beasts, but were also ensnared by bird-nets and stratagems, so that being greatly inferior to their enemies as well in policy as in open force, they were besieged by many deaths. From this it may be easily gathered that they were miraculously preserved.
8.Our help is in the name of Jehovah.David here extends to the state of the Church in all ages that which the faithful had already experienced. As I interpret the verse, he not only gives thanks to God for one benefit, but affirms that the Church cannot continue safe except in so far as she is protected by the hand of God. His object is to animate the children of God with the assured hope, that their life is in perfect safety under the divine guardianship. The contrast between the help of God, and other resources in which the world vainly confides, as we have seen in <192007>Psalm 20:7,
is to be noticed, that the faithful, purged from all false confidence, may betake themselves exclusively to his succor, and depending upon it, may fearlessly despise whatever Satan and the world may plot against them. The name of Godis nothing else than God himself; yet it tacitly conveys a significant idea, implying that as he has disclosed to us his grace by his word, we have ready access to him, so that in seeking him we need not go to a distance, or follow long circuitous paths. Nor is it without cause that the Psalmist again honors God with the title of Creator. We know with what disquietude our minds are agitated till they have raised the power of God to its appropriate elevation, that, the whole world being put under, it alone may be pre-eminent; which cannot be the case unless we are persuaded that all things are subject to his will. He did not show once and in a moment his power in the creation of the world and then withdraw it, but he continually demonstrates it in the government of the world. Moreover, although all men freely and loudly confess that God is the Creator of heaven and of earth, so that even the most wicked are ashamed to withhold from him the honor of this title, yet no sooner does any terror present itself to us than we are convicted of unbelief in hardly setting any value whatever upon the help which he has to bestow.
As the faithful being mingled in this world with the ungodly seem to be exposed to all the ills of life in the same manner as other people, the Prophet, comparing them to Jerusalem, shows that they are defended by an invincible bulwark. And if God at any time suffer them to be plagued by the malice of the wicked, he exhorts them to be of good hope. He however at the same time distinguishes between true and false Israelites, that hypocrites may not apply to themselves what is here said concerning the safety of the righteous.
A Song of Degrees.
1. They who confide in Jehovah “are” as mount Zion, “which” shall not be removed, “but” shall abide for ever. fe792. As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so Jehovah round about his people, henceforth and for ever.