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Commentary On Psalms Volume 4 by Jean Calvin

Psalm 95:8-11

8. Harden not your heart, as in Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness. 9. When your fathers tempted me, they proved me, though yet they had seen my work.10. Forty years, I strove with this generation, and said, They are a people that err in heart, and they have not known my ways.11. Wherefore I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest:

8. Harden not your heart, as in Meribah The Psalmist, having extolled and commended the kindness of God their Shepherd, takes occasion, as they were stiffnecked and disobedient, to remind them of their duty, as his flock, which was to yield a pliable and meek submission; and the more to impress their minds, he upbraids them with the obstinacy of their fathers. The term mryvh, Meribah, may be used appellatively to mean strife or contention; but as the Psalmist evidently refers to the history contained in Exodus 17:2-7, I have preferred understanding it of the place -- and so of msh, Massah. In the second clause, however, the place where the temptation happened may be thought sufficiently described under the term wilderness, and should any read, according to the day of temptation (instead of Massah) in the wilderness, there can be no objection. Some would have it, that Massah and Meribah were two distinct places, but I see no ground to think so; and, in a matter of so little importance, we should not be too nice or curious. He enlarges in several expressions upon the hardness of heart evinced by the people, and, to produce the greater effect, introduces God himself as speaking. By hardness of heart, he no doubt means, any kind of contempt shown to the word of God, though there are many different kinds of it. We find that when proclaimed, it is heard by some in a cold and slighting manner; that some fastidiously put it away from them after they had received it; that others proudly reject it; while again there are men who openly vent their rage against it with despite and blasphemy. The Psalmist, in the one term which he has employed, comprehends all these defaulters, the careless -- the fastidious -- such as deride the word, and such as are actuated in their opposition to it by frenzy and passion. Before the heart can be judged soft and pliable to the hearing of God's word, it is necessary that we receive it with reverence, and with a disposition to obey it. If it carry no authority and weight with it, we show that we regard him as no more than a mere man like ourselves; and here lies the hardness of our hearts, whatever may be the cause of it, whether simply carelessness, or pride, or rebellion. He has intentionally singled out the odious term here employed, to let us know what an execrable thing contempt of God's word is; as, in the Law, adultery is used to denote all kinds of fornication and uncleanness, and murder all kinds of violence, and injury, hatreds, and enmities. Accordingly, the man who simply treats the word of God with neglect, and fails to obey it, is said here to have a hard and stony heart, although he may not be an open despiser. The attempt is ridiculous which the Papists have made to found upon this passage their favorite doctrine of the liberty of the will. We are to notice, in the first place, that all men's hearts are naturally hard and stony; for Scripture does not speak of this as a disease peculiar to a few, but characteristic in general of all mankind, (Ezekiel 36:26.) It is an inbred pravity; still it is voluntary; we are not insensible in the same manner that stones are, and the man who will not suffer himself to be ruled by God's word, makes that heart, which was hard before, harder still, and is convinced as to his own sense and feeling of obstinacy. The consequence by no means follows from this, that softness of heart -- a heart flexible indifferently in either direction, is at our command. The will of man, through natural corruption, is wholly bent to evil; or, to speak more properly, is carried headlong into the commission of it. And yet every man, who disobeys God therein, hardens himself; for the blame of his wrong doing rests with none but himself.

9 When your fathers tempted me, they proved me The Psalmist insinuates, as I have already remarked, that the Jews had been from the first of a perverse and almost intractable spirit. And there were two reasons which made it highly useful to remind the children of the guilt chargeable upon their fathers. We know how apt men are to follow the example of their predecessors; custom begets a sanction; what is ancient becomes venerable, and such is the blinding influence of home example, that whatever may have been done by our forefathers passes for a virtue without examination. We have an instance in Popedom, of the audacity with which the authority of the fathers is opposed to God's word. The Jews were of all others most liable to be deceived upon this side, ever accustomed as they were to boast of their fathers. The Psalmist accordingly would detach them from the fathers, by taking notice of the monstrous ingratitude with which they had been chargeable. A second reason, and one to which I have already adverted, is, that he would show them the necessity in which they stood of being warned upon the present subject. Had their fathers not manifested a rebellions spirit, they might have retorted by asking the question, Upon what ground he warned them against hardness of heart, their nation having hitherto maintained a character for docility and tractableness? The fact being otherwise -- their fathers having from the first been perverse and stubborn, the Psalmist had a plain reason for insisting upon the correction of this particular vice.

There are two ways of interpreting the words which follow. As tempting God is nothing else than yielding to a diseased and unwarrantable craving after proof of his power, we may consider the verse as connected throughout, and read, They tempted me and proved me, although they had already seen my work God very justly complains, that they should insist upon new proof, after his power had been already amply testified by undeniable evidences. There is another meaning, however, that may be given to the term proved, -- according to which, the meaning of the passage would run as follows: -- Your fathers tempted me in asking where God was, notwithstanding all the benefits I had done them; and they proved me, that is, they had actual experience of what I am, inasmuch as I did not cease to give them open proofs of my presence, and consequently they saw my work. Whatever sense we adopt, the Psalmist's design is plainly to show how inexcusable the Jews were in desiring a discovery of God's power, just as if it had been hidden, and had not been taught them by the most incontestable proofs. Granting that they had received no foregoing demonstration of it, they would have evinced an unbecoming spirit in demanding of God why he had failed to provide them with meat and drink; but to doubt his presence after he had brought them from Egypt with an outstretched hand, and evidenced his nearness to them by most convincing testimonies, -- to doubt his presence in the same manner as if it had never been revealed, was a degree of perverse forgetfulness which aggravated their guilt. Upon the whole, I consider the following to be the sense of the passage -- Your fathers tempted me, although they had abundantly proved -- perceived by clear and undeniable evidences, that I was their God -- nay, although my works had been clearly set before them. The lesson is one which is equally applicable to ourselves; for the more abundant testimonies we may have had of the power and loving-kindness of the Lord, the greater will our sin be, if we insist upon receiving additional proofs of them. How many do we find in our own day demanding miracles, while others murmur against God because he does not indulge their wishes? Some may ask why the Psalmist singles out the particular case of Meribah, when there were many other instances which he might have adduced. They never ceased to provoke God from the moment of their passing the Red Sea; and in bringing this one charge only against them, he might seem by his silence on other points to justify their conduct. But the figure synecdoche is common in Scripture, and it would be natural enough to suppose that one case is selected for many. At the same time, another reason for the specification may have been, that, as plainly appears from Moses, the ingratitude and rebellion of the people reached its greatest height on this occasion, when they murmured for water. I am aware that interpreters differ upon this. Such, however, was the fact. They then crowned their former impiety; nor was it until this outcry was made, as the consummating act of all their preceding wickedness, that they gave open proof of their obstinacy being incurable.

10. Forty years I strove with this generation The Psalmist brings it forward as an aggravation of their perverse obstinacy, that God strove with them for so long a time without effect. Occasionally it will happen that there is a violent manifestation of perversity which soon subsides; but God complains that he had constant grounds of contention with his people, throughout the whole forty years. And this proves to us the incurable waywardness of that people. The word generation is used with the same view. The word dvr, dor, signifies an age, or the allotted term of human life; and it is here applied to the men of an age, as if the Psalmist had said, that the Israelites whom God had delivered were incorrigible, during the whole period of their lives. The verb 'qvt, akut, which I have rendered I strove, is, by some, translated contemned, and in the Septuagint it reads, prosochthisa, I was incensed, or enraged; but Hebrew interpreters retain the genuine meaning, That God strove with them in a continual course of contention. This was a remarkable proof of their extreme obstinacy; and God is introduced in the verse as formally pronouncing judgment upon them, to intimate, that after having shown their ungodliness in so many different ways, there could be no doubt regarding their infatuation. Erring in heart, is an expression intended not to extenuate their conduct, but to stamp it with folly and madness, as if he had said, that he had to do with beasts, rather than men endued with sense and intelligence. The reason is subjoined, that they would not attend to the many works of God brought under their eyes, and more than all, to his word; for the Hebrew term drk, derech, which I have rendered ways, comprehends his law and repeated admonitions, as well as his miracles done before them. It argued amazing infatuation that when God had condescended to dwell in such a familiar manner amongst them, and had made such illustrious displays of himself, both in word and works, they should have shut their eyes and overlooked all that had been done. This is the reason why the Psalmist, considering that they wandered in error under so much light as they enjoyed, speaks of their stupidity as amounting to madness.

11. Wherefore I have sworn in my wrath I see no objection to the relative 'sr, asher, being understood in its proper sense and reading -- To whom I have sworn. The Greek version, taking it for a mark of similitude, reads, As I have sworn But I think that it may be properly considered as expressing an inference or conclusion; not as if they were then at last deprived of the promised inheritance when they tempted God, but the Psalmist, having spoken, in the name of God, of that obstinacy which they displayed, takes occasion to draw the inference that there was good reason for their being prohibited, with an oath, from entering the land. Proportionally as they multiplied their provocations, it became the more evident that, being incorrigible, they had been justly cut off from God's rest. The meaning would be more clear by reading in the pluperfect tense -- I had sworn; for God had already shut them out from the promised inheritance, having foreseen their misconduct; before he thus strove with them. I have elsewhere adverted to the explanation which is to be given of the elliptical form in which the oath runs. The land of Canaan is called God's rest in reference to the promise. Abraham and his posterity had been wanderers in it until the full time came for entering upon the possession of it. Egypt had been a temporary asylum, and, as it were, a place of exile. In preparing to plant the Jews, agreeably to his promise, in their rightful patrimony of Canaan, God might very properly call it his rest. The word must be taken, however, in the active sense; this being the great benefit which God bestowed, that the Jews were to dwell there, as in their native soil, and in a quiet habitation. We might stop a moment here to compare what the Apostle states in the third and fourth chapters of his Epistle to the Hebrews, with the passage now before us. That the Apostle follows the Greek version, need occasion no surprise. Neither is he to be considered as undertaking professedly to treat this passage. He only insists upon the adverb To-day, and upon the word Rest And first, he states that the expression to-day, is not to be confined to the time when the Law was given, but properly applies to the Gospel, when God began to speak more openly. The fuller and more perfect declaration of doctrine demanded the greater share of attention. God has not ceased to speak: he has revealed his Son, and is daily inviting us to come unto him; and, undoubtedly, it is our incumbent duty, under such an opportunity, to obey his voice. The Apostle next reasons from the rest, to an extent which we are not to suppose that the words of the Psalmist themselves warrant. He takes it up as a first position, that since there was an implied promise in the punishment here denounced, there must have been some better rest promised to the people of God than the land of Canaan. For, when the Jews had entered the land, God held out to his people the prospect of another rest, which is defined by the Apostle to consist in that renouncing of ourselves, whereby we rest from our own works while God worketh in us. From this, he takes occasion to compare the old Sabbath, or rest, under the Law, which was figurative, with the newness of spiritual life. When his said that he swore in his wrath, this intimates that he was in a manner freed to inflict this punishment, that the provocation was of no common or slight kind, but that their awful obstinacy inflamed his anger, and drew from him this oath.

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