19. Arise, O Jehovah; let not man prevail: let the nations be judged in thy sight.20. Put them in fear, O Jehovah; that the nations may know that they are men.
19. Arise, O Jehovah. When David beseeches God to arise, the expression does not strictly apply to God, but it refers to external appearance and to our senses; for we do not perceive God to be the deliverer of his people except when he appears before our eyes, as it were sitting upon the judgment-seat. There is added a consideration or reason to induce God to avenge the injuries done to his people, namely, that man may not prevail; for when God arises, all the fierceness of the ungodly must immediately fall down and give way. Whence is it that the wicked become so audaciously insolent, or have so great power to work mischief, if it is not because God is still, and gives them loose reins? But, as soon as he shows some token of his judgment, he immediately puts a stop to their proud tumults, and breaks their strength and power with his nod alone. We are taught, by this manner of praying, that however insolently and proudly our enemies may boast of what they will do, yet they are in the hand of God, and can do no more than what he permits them; and farther, that God can doubtless, whenever he pleases, render all their endeavors vain and ineffectual. The Psalmist, therefore, in speaking of them, calls them man. The word in the original is 'nvs, enosh, which is derived from a root signifying misery or wretchedness, and, accordingly, it is the same thing as if he had called them mortal or frail man. Farther, the Psalmist beseeches God to judge the heathen before his face God is said to do this when he compels them, by one means or another, to appear before his judgment-seat. We know that unbelievers, until they are dragged by force into the presence of God, turn their backs upon him as much as they can, in order to exclude from their minds all thought of him as their Judge.
20. Put them in fear, O Jehovah. The Septuagint translates mvrh, morah, [nomothetes,] a lawgiver, deriving it from yrh, yarah, which sometimes signifies to teach. But the scope of the passage requires that we should understand it of fear or dread; and this is the opinion of all sound expositors. Now, it is to be considered of what kind of fear David speaks. God commonly subdues even his chosen ones to obedience by means of fear. But as he moderates his rigour towards them, and, at the same time, softens their stony hearts, so that they willingly and quietly submit themselves to him, he cannot be properly said to compel them by fear. With respect to the reprobate, he takes a different way of dealing. As their obduracy is inflexible, so that it is easier to break than to bend them, he subdues their desperate obstinacy by force; not, indeed, that they are reformed, but, whether they will or no, an acknowledgement of their own weakness is extorted from them. They may gnash their teeth and boil with rage, and even exceed in cruelty wild beasts, but when the dread of God seizes upon them, they are thrown down with their own violence, and fall with their own weight. Some explain these words as a prayer that God would bring the nations under the yoke of David, and make them tributaries to his government; but this is a cold and forced explanation. The word fear comprehends in general all the plagues of God, by which is repulsed, as by the heavy blows of a hammer, the rebellion of those who would never obey him except by compulsion.
There follows next the point to which the nations must be brought, namely, to acknowledge themselves to be mortal men. This, at first sight, seems to be a matter of small importance; but the doctrine which it contains is far from being trifling. What is man, that he dares of himself to move a finger? And yet all the ungodly run to excess as boldly and presumptuously as if there were nothing to hinder them from doing whatever they please. It is certainly through a distempered imagination that they claim to themselves what is peculiar to God; and, in short, they would never run to so great excess if they were not ignorant of their own condition. David, when he beseeches God to strike the nations with terror, that they may know that they are men, does not mean that the ungodly will profit so much under the rods and chastisements of God as to humble themselves truly and from the heart; but the knowledge of which he speaks just means an experience of their own weakness. His language is as if he had said, Lord, since it is their ignorance of themselves which hurries them into their rage against me, make them actually to experience that their strength is not equal to their infatuated presumption, and after they are disappointed of their vain hopes, let them lie confounded and abased with shame. It may often happen that those who are convinced of their own weakness do not yet reform; but much is gained when their ungodly presumption is exposed to mockery and scorn before the world, that it may appear how ridiculous was the confidence which they presumed to place in their own strength. With respect to the chosen of God, they ought to profit under his chastisements after another manner. It becomes them to be humbled under a sense of their own weakness, and willingly to divest themselves of all vain confidence and presumption. And this will be the case if they remember that they are but men. Augustine has well and wisely said, that the whole humility of man consists in the knowledge of himself. Moreover, since pride is natural to all, God requires to strike terror into all men indiscriminately, that, on the one hand, his own people may learn to be humble, and that, on the other hand, the wicked, although they cease not to elevate themselves above the condition of man, may be put back with shame and confusion.