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Commentary On Psalms Volume 4 by Jean Calvin

Psalm 109:6-11

6. Set thou over him a wicked person; and let the adversary stand at his right hand.7. When he is judged, let him depart guilty, and let his prayer be turned into sin. 8. Let his days be few: and let another receive his office.9. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow: 10. And let his children wander without any settled habitation, and let them be beggars, and let them seek food out of their waste places. 11. Let the extortioner seize all that belongs to him, and let strangers spoil his labor.

6 Set thou over him a wicked person. Hitherto he poured out his complaint against a vast number of persons; now he seems to direct it against a single individual. Probably he speaks of each of them individually. It is, however, equally probable that he refers in very marked terms to some one in particular among these wicked persons, the most notorious transgressor of any of them. Some conjecture, and not without reason, that Doeg is the person here aimed at, who, by his treason and revolt, sought to bring ruin, not only upon David, but also upon all the holy priests; and we know that this psalm is applied by Peter to Judas, (Acts 1:20) But with equal propriety, and certainly not less forcibly, may this complaint be considered as applicable to some most intimate and particular friend of the Psalmist. Respecting the imprecations contained in this psalm, it will be proper to keep in mind what I have said elsewhere, that when David forms such maledictions, or expresses his desires for them, he is not instigated by any immoderate carnal propensity, nor is he actuated by zeal without knowledge, nor is he influenced by any private personal considerations. These three matters must be carefully weighed, for in proportion to the amount of self-esteem which a man possesses, is he so enamoured with his own interests as to rush headlong upon revenge. Hence it comes to pass, that the more a person is devoted to selfishness, he will be the more immoderately addicted to the advancement of his own individual interests. This desire for the promotion of personal interest gives birth to another species of vice. For no one wishes to be avenged upon his enemies because that such a thing would be right and equitable, but because it is the means of gratifying his own spiteful propensity. Some, indeed, make a pretext of righteousness and equity in the matter, but the spirit of malignity, by which they are inflamed, effaces every trace of justice, and blinds their minds.

When these two vices, selfishness and carnality, are corrected, there is still another thing demanding correction, the repressing the ardor of foolish zeal, in order that we may follow the Spirit of God as our guide. Should any one, under the influence of perverse zeal, produce David as an example of it, that would not be an example in point; for to such a person may be very aptly applied the answer which Christ returned to his disciples, |Ye know not what spirit ye are of,| Luke 9:55. How detestable a piece of sacrilege is it on the part of the monks, and especially the Franciscan friars, to pervert this psalm by employing it to countenance the most nefarious purposes! If a man harbour malice against a neighbor, it is quite a common thing for him to engage one of these wicked wretches to curse him, which he would do by daily repeating this psalm. I know a lady in France who hired a parcel of these friars to curse her own and only son in these words.

But I return to David, who, free from all inordinate passion, breathed forth his prayers under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Then, as to the ungodly, who live as the contemners of God, and who are constantly plotting the overthrow of the unsuspecting and the good, casting off all restraint, so that neither modesty nor honesty proves a check to them, surely they are deserving of the punishment of having a wicked person set over them And since, by means of intrigue and perfidy, they are constantly aiming at the extermination of the good, they are most justly punished by God, who raises up against them an adversary that should never depart from their side. Only let believers be on their guard, lest they should betray too much haste in their prayers, and let them rather leave room for the grace of God to manifest itself in their behalf; because it may turn out that the man, who to-day bears towards us a deadly enmity, may by to-morrow through that grace become our friend.

7 When he is judged, let him depart guilty Another imprecation is, that, being summoned to judgment, he might be punished without mercy, and that, though he humbly crave forgiveness, the judge should remain inexorable. This might with propriety be understood to relate not merely to his being judged at the bar of men, but also at the tribunal of God. But as it accords very well with the decisions awarded by an earthly judge, and as this is the commonly received interpretation, I have no wish to depart from it. There are two things which must be noticed here; that the wickedness of the wicked may be so palpable as to leave no room to escape from the execution of justice, and that all their entreaties for pardon may be disregarded. Accordingly, the Psalmist represents him as a condemned criminal leaving the presence of the judge, bearing the ignominy of the condemnation which he righteously merited, having his nefarious deeds disclosed and detected. With respect to the other interpretation which places the ungodly before God's judgment-seat, it by no means appears absurd to say that their prayers should be turned against them to sin, the more especially as we know that all their sacrifices are an abomination unto him. And by how much they themselves are filthy, by so much do all their plausible virtues become offensive and displeasing to God. But as the scope of the passage is in favor of that interpretation which applies it to earthly judges, I do not consider it necessary to insist farther upon this point.

8 Let his days be few Although this world is the scene of much toil and trouble, yet we know that these are pledges and proofs of God's loving-kindness, inasmuch as he frequently, and as a token of his love, promises to prolong the lives of men; not that it is absolutely necessary for us to remain long here, but that we may have an opportunity of sharing of God's fatherly love which he bears towards us, by which we may be led to cherish the hope of immortality. Now, in opposition to this, the brevity of human life is here introduced as a mark of God's disapprobation; for when he cuts off the wicked after a violent manner, he thus testifies that they did not deserve to breathe the breath of life. And the same sentiment is inculcated when, denuding them of their honor and dignity, he hurls them from the place of power and authority. The same thing may also happen to the children of God, for temporal evils are common to the good and to the bad; at the same time, these are never so mingled and blended together, but that one may perceive occasionally the judgments of God in a very manifest and marked manner. Peter, quoting this verse, Acts 1:20, says it behoved to be fulfilled in Judas, because it is written here, |let another take his bishopric.| And this, he does on the assumed principle of interpretation that David here spoke in the person of Christ. To this it cannot be objected, that the Hebrew term phqvdh, pekudah, signifies generally superintendence, because Peter very properly applies it to the apostleship of Judas. In expounding this passage, sometimes in reference to a wife, or to the soul, (which is a precious jewel in man,) or to wealth and property, there is good reason to believe that, in doing so, the Jewish interpreters are actuated by pure malice. What purpose can it serve to pervert the sense of a word, the meaning of which is so pointed and plain, unless that, under the influence of a malignant spirit, they endeavor so to obscure the passage, as to make it appear not to be properly quoted by Peter? From these words we learn, that there is no cause why the ungodly should be proud while their reputation is high in this world, seeing they cannot after all escape from that doom which the Holy Spirit here declares awaits them. Here too we are furnished with very valuable matter of comfort and patience, when we hear that, however elevated may be their rank and reputation now, their downfall is approaching, and that they will soon be stript of all their pomp and power. In the two succeeding verses the malediction is extended both to the wife and children; and the desire, that she may be left a widow and they become fatherless, depends upon the brevity of that life to which the prophet formerly adverted. Mention is likewise made of beggary, and the want of all the necessaries of life, which is a proof of the magnitude of their guilt; for assuredly the Holy Spirit would not denounce against them a punishment so grievous and heavy for a trivial offense. In delivering up his property as booty to the extortioners, David must be understood as alluding to the poverty which was to overtake his children; for he is not speaking of a poor and mean person who at his death can leave nothing to his family, but of one who, regardless of right or wrong, has amassed wealth to enrich his children, but from whom God takes away the goods which he had unrighteously taken from others.

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