21. And thou, O Jehovah my Lord! undertake for me, for thy name's sake; deliver me, because thy mercy is good; 22. Because I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.23. I walk about as a shadow when it declineth. I am tossed as the locust. 24. My knees are become feeble through fasting; and my flesh faileth of fatness.25. But I became a reproach to them; when they see me they shake their head.26. Help me, O Jehovah my God! save me according to thy mercy: 27. And they shall know that this is thy hand, and that thou, O Jehovah! hast done it.
21 And thou, O Jehovah my Lord! From the pouring out of complaints and imprecations against his enemies, the Psalmist passes to prayers; or rather, after having betaken himself to God as his guardian and deliverer, he appears to take occasion, from this circumstance, to encourage himself in prayer; even as all the pious reflections by which the faithful exercise and strengthen their faith, stimulate them to call upon the name of God. At the same time, he does not pique himself upon any service which he has rendered to God, as deserving of his help, nor does he rely upon his own worthiness, but he places all his confidence in the free grace and mercy of God. That integrity of which he was conscious, he placed in opposition to his enemies, for the purpose of making their iniquity more manifest; but he does not aspire after any recompense from God, because he adopts the nobler principle, that of owing every thing to God's voluntary choice, upon which also he acknowledges his safety depends. Were it lawful for any one to boast of his virtues and merits, certainly David was not the man who was least entitled to do so; and, moreover, he was the representative of Christ, and of the whole Church. Hence it follows, that all our prayers will vanish in smoke, unless they are grounded upon the mercy of God. The case of Christ was indeed a peculiar one, inasmuch as it was by his own righteousness that he appeased the wrath of his Father towards us. As, however, his human nature was entirely dependant on the good pleasure of God, so it was his will, by his own example, to direct us to the same source. What can we do, seeing that the most upright among us is constrained to acknowledge that he is chargeable with the commission of much sin; surely we never can make God our debtor? It follows, therefore, that God, on account of the benignity of his nature, takes us under his protection; and that, because of the goodness of his mercy, he desires his grace may shine forth in us. In coming to God, we must always remember that we must possess the testimony of a good conscience, and must beware of harbouring the thought that we have any inherent righteousness which would render God our debtor, or that we deserve any recompense at his hands. For if, in the preservation of this short and frail life, God manifests the glory of his name and of his goodness, how much more ought all confidence in good works to be laid aside, when the subject-matter referred to is life heavenly and eternal? If, in the prolonging of my life for a short time on earth, his name is thereby glorified, by manifesting of his own accord towards me his benignity and liberality; when, therefore, having delivered me from the tyranny of Satan, he adopts me into his family, washes away my impurity in the blood of Christ, regenerates me by his Holy Spirit, unites me to his Son, and conducts me to the life of heaven, -- then, assuredly, the more bountifully he treats me, the less should I be disposed to arrogate to myself any portion of the praise. How different a part does David act, who, in order to procure favor for himself, publishes his own poverty and misery? And as outward affliction is of no avail, unless a man, at the same time, be humbled, and his proud and rebellious spirit be subdued, the Psalmist here repeats, that his heart was wounded within him. From which we may learn, that God will be a physician to none, except to such as in the spirit of genuine humility send up their sighs and groans to him, and do not become hardened under their afflictions.
23 I walk about as a shadow. These are two very appropriate similitudes: to the first of them I formerly adverted in Psalm 102:12; namely, that the afflicted person, and he who is almost lifeless, is very fitly compared to the shadow of the evening. At sunrise, or when he is shining in noon-day brightness, the constant shifting of the shadow is not so perceptible; but, towards sunset, the shadow flits before us during every moment that passes. By the other similitude, the transitory nature of all sublunary things is pointed out. For as the locusts are constantly skipping from one place to another, so David complains of his life being ever rendered uneasy by incessant persecution, so that no space was allowed him for repose; and this is similar to what he says in Psalm 11:1, that he was compelled to flee like a sparrow, for which the fowler lays snares in all directions. In short, he mourns over his forlorn situation, that he could find no place of safety, and that, even among men, he could get no habitation. And, as in this psalm, he presents us with a picture of the whole Church, we need not be surprised if God try us, and arouse us from our lethargy, by an innumerable variety of events. Accordingly, Paul, 1 Corinthians 4:11, speaking of himself and others, says, that they have no certain dwelling-place; a description which is more or less applicable to all the children of God.
24 My knees are become feeble. Though David had the necessaries of life, yet he emaciated himself by voluntary abstinence, to which, as well as to prayer, he gave himself, and therefore we may regard this verse as expressive of his sorrow and sadness. We may also understand it as expressive of his having no relish for meat or drink, knowing, as we do, that persons who are in sorrow and sadness have no appetite for food; even life itself is burdensome to them. Should any one prefer restricting the interpretation to David's being in want of the necessaries of life, when he hid himself in the dens of wild beasts, to escape the fury of his enemies, and was then subjected to hunger and thirst, he may do so. It appears to me, however, that by this language he intends to point out the extreme anguish which he felt, because, with death staring him in the face, he loathed all food; and this is in accordance with the next clause, in which he says, my flesh faileth of fatness; because |a sorrowful spirit drieth up the bones,| (Proverbs 17:22) By the term, fatness, some understand delicacies; meaning that he was deprived of all that food which is pleasing to the palate. The more natural way is to consider it as denoting his becoming emaciated by reason of grief and fasting, inasmuch as the natural moisture was wasted. Another proof of his sad situation arises from this, that, according to what he states in Psalm 22:7, he was held in scorn by all. It is, indeed, a sad and bitter thing which God's children endure, when they are made to feel that the curse which he denounces against the transgressors of his law is directed against themselves; for the law says to the despisers of it,
|Thou shalt become an astonishment, a proverb, and laughing-stock,| (Deuteronomy 28:37)
With this species of temptation David was assailed; and he declares that he was not only regarded as a condemned person, but also cruelly derided; God at the same time coming in for a share of it; for it is usual with the ungodly to conduct themselves with insolence and pride towards us when they see us oppressed under afflictions, and, at the same time, to rail at our faith and piety, because God renders us no help in our miseries.
26 Help me, O Jehovah! The prophet repeats his prayer, because the more we are assailed by the subtilty and deceit of Satan, the more necessary is it for us to strive more ardently, and display the greater boldness. We may, indeed, have the full assurance of God being propitious towards us, yet when he delays to manifest it, and when the ungodly slander us, it must be that various doubts which keep intruding themselves upon us arise in our minds. Hence, it is not without reason that David, in order that he might withstand such attacks, places himself under the protection of that God who, according to his mercy and goodness, helps his people in their time of need. He implores that deliverance may be extended to him, not by ordinary means, but by the peculiar and special display of God's power, so that his enemies may stand abashed, and not dare to open their mouths; and we know that God sometimes secretly grants succor to his servants, while, at other times, he stretches out his hand in such a visible manner, that the ungodly, though they shut their eyes, are constrained to acknowledge that there is divine agency connected with their deliverance. For as his enemies had exalted themselves against God, so it was his desire, after they shall have been subdued, to exult over them in the name of God. In cherishing this desire, he has no wish to procure for himself the renown of being valiant in war, but that God's power may be displayed, that no flesh may glory in his sight. The words may also be viewed as referring both to his deliverance from his enemies, and to his affliction; his desire being to attribute his deliverance mainly to the grace of God; because, in opposing the hand of God to fortune and to all human means of deliverance, it is plainly his intention that God should be recognised as the alone author of it. This deserves to be carefully considered by us, for however anxious we are to be delivered by the hand of God, yet there is scarcely one among a hundred who makes the manifestation of God's glory his chief end; that glory for which we ought to have a greater regard than for our own safety, because it is far more excellent. Whosoever then is desirous that the ungodly may be constrained to acknowledge the power of God, ought the more carefully to take heed to the help of God which in his own case he experiences; for it would be most absurd to point out the hand of God to others, if our minds have not recognised it.