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Commentary On Psalms Volume 4 by Jean Calvin

Psalm 102:8-11

8. My enemies have reviled me daily; and those who are mad against me have sworn by me. 9. For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping, [or, with my tears,] 10. On account of thy indignation and thy wrath: for thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down.11. My days are like a shadow which declineth; and I am dried up like the grass.

8. My enemies have reviled me daily The faithful, to excite the compassion of God towards them, tell him that they are not only objects of mockery to their enemies, but also that they swore by them. The indignity complained of is, that the ungodly so shamefully triumphed over God's chosen people, as even to borrow from their calamities a form of swearing and imprecation. This was to regard the fate of the Jews as a signal pattern in uttering the language of imprecation. When, therefore, at the present day the ungodly, in like manner, give themselves loose reins in pouring forth against us contumelious language, let us learn to fortify ourselves with this armor, by which such kind of temptation, however sharp, may be overcome. The Holy Spirit, in dictating to the faithful this form of prayer, meant to testify that God is moved by such revilings to succor his people; even as we find it stated in Isaiah 37:23,

|Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed, and against whom hast thou exalted thy voice? even against the Holy One of Israel;|

and in the verse immediately preceding the prophet had said, |He hath despised thee, O daughter of Zion! against thee hath he shaken the head, O daughter of Jerusalem!| It is surely an inestimable comfort that the more insolent our enemies are against us, the more is God incited to gird himself to aid us. In the second clause the inspired writer expresses more strongly the cruelty of his enemies, when he speaks of their being mad against him As the verb hll, halal, which we have rendered mad, generally signifies to praise, it might here be understood as having, by the figure antiphrasis, a sense the very opposite -- those who dispraised or reproached me. But it is better to follow the commonly received interpretation. Some maintain that they are called mad, because they manifested their own folly, making it evident from the manner in which they acted, that they were worthless persons; but this opinion does too much violence to the text. The more satisfactory sense is, that the people of God charge revilers with cruelty or furious hatred.

9 For I have eaten ashes like bread Some think that the order is here inverted, and that the letter k, caph, the sign of similitude, which is put before lchm, lechem, the word for bread, ought to be placed before 'phr, epher, the word for ashes; as if it had been said, I find no more relish for my bread than I do for ashes; and the reason is, because sorrow of heart produces loathing of food. But the simpler meaning is, that lying prostrate on the ground, they licked, as it were, the earth, and so did eat ashes instead of bread. It was customary for those who mourned to stretch themselves at full length with their faces on the ground. The prophet, however, intended to express a different idea -- to intimate, that when he partook of his meals, there was no table set before him, but his bread was thrown upon the ground to him in a foul and disgusting manner. Speaking, therefore, in the person of the faithful, he asserts that he was so fixed to the ground that he did not even rise from it to take his food. The same sentiment is expressed in the last part of the verse, I have mingled my drink with weeping; for while mourners usually restrain their sorrow during the short time in which they refresh themselves with food, he declares that his mourning was without intermission. Some, instead of reading in the first clause, as bread, read, in bread; and as the two letters, k, caph, and v, beth, nearly resemble each other, I prefer reading in bread, which agrees better with the second clause.

10. On account of thy anger and thy wrath He now declares that the greatness of his grief proceeded not only from outward troubles and calamities, but from a sense that these were a punishment inflicted upon him by God. And surely there is nothing which ought to wound our hearts more deeply, than when we feel that God is angry with us. The meaning then amounts to this -- O Lord! I do not confine my attention to those things which would engage the mind of worldly men; but I rather turn my thoughts to thy wrath; for were it not that thou art angry with us, we would have been still enjoying the inheritance given us by thee, from which we have justly been expelled by thy displeasure. When God then strikes us with his hand, we should not merely groan under the strokes inflicted upon us, as foolish men usually do, but should chiefly look to the cause that we may be truly humbled. This is a lesson which it would be of great advantage to us to learn.

The last clause of the verse, Thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down, may be understood in two ways. As we lift up what we intend to throw down with greater violence against the ground, the sentence may denote a violent method of casting down, as if it had been said, Thou hast crushed me more severely by throwing me down headlong from on high, than if I had merely fallen from the station which I occupied. But this seems to be another amplification of his grief, nothing being more bitter to an individual than to be reduced from a happy condition to extreme misery, the prophet mournfully complains that the chosen people were deprived of the distinguished advantages which God had conferred upon them in time past, so that the very remembrance of his former goodness, which should have afforded consolation to them, embittered their sorrow. Nor was it the effect of ingratitude to turn the consideration of the divine benefits, which they had formerly received, into matter of sadness; since they acknowledged that their being reduced to such a state of wretchedness and degradation was through their own sins. God has no delight in changing, as if, after having given us some taste of his goodness, he intended forthwith to deprive us of it. As his goodness is inexhaustible, so his blessing would flow upon us without intermission, were it not for our sins which break off the course of it. Although, then, the remembrance of God's benefits ought to assuage our sorrows, yet still it is a great aggravation of our calamity to have fallen from an elevated position, and to find that we have so provoked his anger, as to make him withdraw from us his benignant and bountiful hand. Thus when we consider that the image of God, which distinguished Adam, was the brightness of the celestial glory; and when, on the contrary, we now see the ignominy and degradation to which God has subjected us in token of his wrath, this contrast cannot surely fail of making us feel more deeply the wretchedness of our condition. Whenever, therefore, God, after having stripped us of the blessings which he had conferred upon us, gives us up to reproach, let us learn that we have so much the greater cause to lament, because, through our own fault, we have turned light into darkness.

11. My days are like the shadow which declineth When the sun is directly over our heads, that is to say, at mid-day, we do not observe such sudden changes of the shadows which his light produces; but when he begins to decline towards the west the shadows vary almost every moment, This is the reason why the sacred writer expressly makes mention of the shadow which declineth What he attributes to the afflicted Church seems indeed to be equally applicable to all men; but he had a special reason for employing this comparison to illustrate the condition of the Church when subjected to the calamity of exile. It is true, that as soon as we advance towards old age, we speedily fall into decay. But the complaint here is, that this befell the people of God in the very flower of their age. By the term days is to be understood the whole course of their life; and the meaning is, that the captivity was to the godly as the setting of the sun, because they quickly failed. In the end of the verse the similitude of withered grass, used a little before, is repeated, to intimate that their life during the captivity was involved in many sorrows which dried up in them the very sap of life. Nor is this wonderful, since to live in that condition would have been worse than a hundred deaths had they not been sustained by the hope of future deliverance. But although they were not altogether overwhelmed by temptation, they must have been in great distress, because they saw themselves abandoned by God.

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