12. But, O LORD of hosts, that triest the righteous, and seest the reins and the heart, let me see thy vengeance on them: for unto thee have I opened my cause.
12. Et (vel, tu autem) Jehova exercituum, probans justum, videns renes et cor, videbo ultionem tuam ex ipsis, quia tibi patefeci litem meam (vel, jus meam, causam meam.)
The Prophet shews here briefly how he dared to allege God's name and help against his enemies; for hypocrites often boast that God is their helper, but they falsely pretend his name. The proof, then, by which the Prophet shews that he did not falsely or presumptuously pretend what he had stated, -- that God was to him like a strong giant, who could easily lay prostrate all the wicked, ought to be well weighed; and it was this -- that he dared to make God the witness and judge of his integrity. Hence if we desire to have God's name to plead for the purpose of repelling all those artifices which are contrived against us by the devil, we must learn to offer ourselves to be tried by him, so that he may really examine our thoughts and feelings.
Now, in the first place, let us bear in mind what the Prophet teaches, -- that nothing is hid from God; for hypocrites will not hesitate to go so far as to offer themselves to be tried by God; but they do not yet duly consider what is said here, that nothing is hid from him. There are many recesses in the heart of man, and we know that all things there have many wrappings and coverings; but God in the meantime is a heart-discerner, (kardiognostes,) who proves the heart and reins. Under the word reins, the Hebrews include all the hidden thoughts and feelings. We must then remember this as the first thing, that the Prophet acknowledges that there can be no disguise as to God, and that men gain nothing by acting fallaciously, for he penetrates into the inmost thoughts and discerns between the thoughts and the feelings.
He adds that the righteous are tried by God. There is to be understood here a contrast, because men's judgment is commonly superficial; for when there is an appearance of integrity, there is an immediate acquittal, though the heart may be deceitful and full of all perfidy. The Prophet then means, that when we come to God's tribunal no one is there acquitted but he who brings a pure heart and real integrity. He then rises to a higher confidence, and says, that he should see the vengeance of God.
We now see whence the Prophet derived his confidence, even because he had thoroughly examined himself, and that before God; he had not appealed to earthly witnesses only, nor had he, as it were, ascended a public theater to solicit the favor of the people; but he knew that he was approved by God, because he was sincere and honest.
And then he justly adds, at the same time, that he had made known his cause or his complaint to God. There is to be understood here again a contrast; for they who are carried away by the popular breath do not acquiesce in God's judgment. Ambition, like a violent wind, always carries men along so that they cannot stop themselves; hence it is that neither the testimony of conscience nor the judgment of God has much weight with them. But the Prophet says, that he had made known his cause to God.
If any one objects and says, that hypocrites do the same, to this I answer, that though some imitation may appear in them, there is nothing real or genuine; for though they may boast that God is their witness, and that he approves of their cause, it is only what they speak vainly before men; for there is not one of them who deals thus privately with God. As long, then, as they are given to ostentation, they do not make known their cause to God, however they may appeal to him, refer to his tribunal, and declare that they have no other end in view but to promote his glory. They, then, who boastingly sound forth these things before the world for their own advantage, do not yet make known their cause to God, but by frivolous and vain boasting pretend his name.
What, then, is it to make known our cause to God? It is to do this when no one is witness, and when God alone appears before us. When we dare in our prayers to address God thus, -- |O Lord, thou knowest my integrity, thou knowest that there is nothing hid which I do now lay before thee,| then it is that we truly make known our cause to God; for in this case there is no regard had for men, but we are satisfied with the judgment of God alone. This was the case with the Prophet when he said, that he had made known his cause to God; and it must have been so, for we have seen that all ranks of men were opposed to him. As then he was under the necessity of fleeing to the only true God, he justly says, that he had referred his cause to him.
By saying that he should see the vengeance of God, he alludes to that wished-for revenge before mentioned, for his enemies had said, |Let us take our revenge on him.| The Prophet says, |I shall see thy vengeance, O Lord.| By saying that he should see it, he speaks as though he had his hands tied; for thus the faithful, of their own accord, restrain themselves, because they know that they are forbidden by God's command to revenge themselves on their enemies. As, then, there is a difference between doing and seeing, the Prophet here makes a distinction between himself and the audaciously wicked; for he would not himself take vengeance according to the violence of his wrath, but that he should only see it; and then he calls it the vengeance of God, for men rob God of his right whenever they revenge themselves according to their own will. Paul says,
|Give place to wrath.| (Romans 12:19)
While exhorting the faithful to forbearance, he uses this reason, that otherwise no place is given to God's judgment; for whenever we take revenge, we anticipate God, as though every one of us ascended God's tribunal, and arrogated to ourselves his office. We now, then, perceive what this mode of speaking means.
But we must at the same time notice, that God's vengeance is not to be imprecated, except on the reprobate and irreclaimable. For the Prophet no doubt pitied his enemies, and wished, if they were reclaimable, that God would be propitious and merciful to them, according to what we have before seen. What, then, the revenge intimates of which he speaks is, that he knew by the prophetic spirit that they were wholly irreclaimable; and as his mind was under the influence of right zeal, he could imprecate on them the vengeance of God. If any one now, after the example of the Prophet, should wish all his enemies destroyed, and would have God armed against them, he would act very presumptuously, for it does not belong to us to determine before the time who the reprobate and the irreclaimable are; until this be found out by us, we ought to pray for all without exception, and every one ought also to consider by what zeal he is influenced, lest we should be under the power of turbulent feelings, as is commonly the case, and lest also our zeal be hasty and inconsiderate. In short, except it be certain to us that our zeal is guided by the spirit of uprightness and wisdom, we should never pray for vengeance on our enemies. He afterwards adds, --