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Commentary On Psalms Volume 4 by Jean Calvin

Psalm 119:81-88

k 81. My soul hath fainted for thy salvation: I hope in thy word. k 82. My eyes have waxed dim in looking for thy promise, and I say, When wilt thou comfort me? k 83. For I have been as a bottle in the smoke; and yet I have not forgotten thy statutes. k 84. How many are the days of thy servant? when wilt thou execute judgment on my persecutors? k 85. The proud have digged pits for me, which thing is not according to thy law. k 86. All thy commandments are truth; they persecute we deceitfully; therefore help thou me. k 87. They have almost consumed me upon the earth; yet I have not forsaken thy statutes. k 88. Quicken me according to thy goodness; and I will keep the testimony of thy mouth.

81. My soul hath fainted for thy salvation. The Psalmist intimates that, although worn out with continual grief, and perceiving no issue to his calamities, yet trouble and weariness had not produced such a discouraging effect upon his mind, as to prevent him from always reposing with confidence in God. To bring out the meaning the more distinctly, we must begin at the second clause, which is obviously added by way of exposition. There he affirms that he trusts in God; and this is the foundation of all. But, intending to express the invincible constancy of his trust, he tells us that he patiently endured all the distresses, under which others succumb. We see some embracing with great eagerness the promises of God; but their ardor, within a short time, vanishes; or, at least, is quenched by adversity. It was far otherwise with David. The verb klh, kalah, which signifies to faint, or to be consumed, seems, indeed, at first sight, to convey a different meaning. But the prophet, in this passage, as in other places, by fainting means that patience, which those who are deprived of all strength, and who seem to be already dead, continue to cherish, and which inspires their hearts with secret groanings, and such as cannot be uttered. This fainting, then, is opposed to the delicacy of those who cannot suffer a long delay.

82 My eyes have waxed dim in looking for thy word This verse is very similar to the preceding, -- transforming to the eyes what had been said before concerning the soul. The only difference is, that, instead of longing after salvation or help, the expression, longing after God's word compromise, is here used; for salvation is an act, as it is termed; that is to say, it consists in effect, whereas a promise keeps us suspended in expectation. God may not, all at once, openly perform what he has promised; and, in this case, it being only in his word that he promises us help, there is no other way by which we can hope for help, than by our reposing on his word. As, then, the word precedes, in order, the help which God affords, or, rather, as it is the manner in which it is represented to our view, the prophet, when sighing after salvation, very properly declares that he kept his eyes fixed on the Divine word, until his sight failed him. Here we have presented to us the wonderful and incredible power of patience, under the infirmity of the flesh, when, being faint and deprived of all rigor, we have recourse to God for help, even while it is hidden from us. In short, the prophet, to prevent it from being supposed that he was too effeminate and faint-hearted, intimates that his fainting was not without cause. In asking God, When wilt thou comfort me? he shows, with sufficient plainness, that he was for a long time, as it were, cast off and forsaken.

83. For I have been as a bottle in the smoke. The particle ky, ki, translated for, might also, not improperly, be resolved into the adverb of time, when; so that we might read the verse in one connected sentence, thus' When I was like a dried bottle, I, nevertheless, did not forget thy law. The obvious design of the Psalmist is to teach us, that, although he had been proved by severe trials, and wounded to the quick, he yet had not been withdrawn from the fear of God. In comparing himself to a bottle or bladder, he intimates that he was, as it were, parched by the continual heat of adversities. Whence we learn, that that sorrow must have been intense which reduced him to such a state of wretchedness and emaciation, that like a shriveled bottle he was almost dried up. It, however, appears that he intends to point cut, not only the severity of his affliction, but also its lingering nature that he was tormented, as it were, at a slow fire; even as the smoke which proceeds from heat dries bladders by slow degrees. The prophet experienced a long series of grief's, which might have consumed him a hundred times, and that, by their protracted and lingering nature, had he not been sustained by the word of God. In short, it is a genuine evidence of true godliness, when, although plunged into the deepest afflictions, we yet cease not to submit ourselves to God.

84. How many are the days of thy servant? etc. Some read these two clauses apart, as if the first were a general complaint of the brevity of human life, such as is to be met with in other psalms, and more frequently in the book of Job; and next, in their opinion, there follows a special prayer of the Psalmist, that God would take vengeance upon his enemies. But I rather prefer joining the two clauses together, and limit both to David's afflictions; as if it had been said, Lord, how long hast thou determined to abandon thy servant to the will of the ungodly? when wilt thou set thyself in opposition to their cruelty and outrage, in order to take vengeance upon them? The Scriptures often use the word days in this sense; as, for example, |the days of Egypt,| Ezekiel 30:9; |the days of Babylon,| and |the days of Jerusalem,| Psalm 137:7; a word which, in other places, is called |the day of visitation,| Isaiah 10:3. By the use of the plural number, is denoted a certain determinate portion of time, which, in other places, is compared to the |days of an hireling,| Job 14:6; Isaiah 16:14. The Psalmist does not, then, bewail in general the transitory life of man, but he complains that the time of his state of warfare in this world had been too long protracted; and, therefore, he naturally desires that it might be brought to a termination. In expostulating with God about his trouble, he does not do so obstinately, or with a murmuring spirit; but still, in asking how long it will be necessary for him to suffer, he humbly prays that God would not delay to succor him. As to the point of his stirring him up by prayer to execute vengeance, we have elsewhere seen in what sense it was lawful for him to make such a request; namely, because the vengeance which he desired to see was such as is properly suitable to God. It is certain that he had divested himself of all the corrupt affections of the flesh, that he might, with a pure and undisturbed zeal, desire God's judgment. He, however, in this passage, only wishes in general to be delivered by the hand of God from the wrongs which were inflicted upon him, without adjudging to perdition his adversaries; for he was quite contented, provided God appeared to defend him.

85 The proud have digged pits for me. He complains that he had been circumvented by the frauds and artifices of his enemies; as if he had said, They have not only endeavored to injure me by open force and the violence of the sword, but have also maliciously sought to destroy me by snares and secret arts. The additional clause, which thing is not according to thy Law, is introduced as an argument, to excite God to exercise his mercy; for he is the more inclined to succor his servants, when he sees that the attempts made upon their welfare involve the violation of his own Law. At the same time, the Psalmist furnishes a proof of his own innocence, intimating that he had deserved no such treatment at their hands, and that whatever they practiced, he, notwithstanding, patiently kept himself under restraint; not attempting any thing which he knew to be contrary to the Divine Law.

86. All thy commandments are truth. In this verse he again confirms the statement, That, in whatever ways he was afflicted, his mind had not been distracted by various devices, because, trusting in the word of God, he never doubted of his assistance. In the first place, he tells us, that the consideration, by which he was armed for repelling all assaults, was this, That the faithful, under the conduct of God, engage in a prosperous warfare, the salvation which they hope for from his word being absolutely certain. For this reason he declares, that the commandments of God are true; by which encomium he teaches us, that those who rely upon the word of God are out of all danger; and he lays down this truth, that such a support may always sustain our courage. In the second place, he complains of the treachery of his enemies, as he declared before. Here the word sqr, sheker, is repeated, by which he means, that they had no regard to equity. From this consideration also he was led to entertain the hope of deliverance; for it is the peculiar office of God to succor the poor and afflicted who are wrongfully oppressed.

87. They have almost consumed me upon the earth. He repeats, in somewhat different words, what he had spoken a little before, that, although he had been sorely tempted, he had nevertheless kept his footing, because he had not given up with true religion. A single declaration of this fact would have been enough for those who are perfect; but if we call to mind our own weakness, we will readily confess that it was not unworthy of being repeatedly stated. We not only forget the law of God when we are shaken by extreme conflicts, but the greater part lose their courage even before they engage in the conflict. On which account this wonderful strength of the prophet is worthy of more special notice, who, although almost reduced to death, yet never ceased to revive his courage by continual meditation on the law. Nor is it in vain that he adds, that it was upon the earth that his enemies had almost consumed him, conveying the idea, that, when the fears of death presented themselves to him on all sides in this world, he elevated his mind above the world. If faith reach to heaven, it will be an easy matter to emerge from despair.

88. Quicken me according to thy goodness This verse contains nothing new. In the beginning of it David represents his life as depending on God's mercy, not only because he was conscious of human frailty, but because he saw himself daily exposed to death in multiplied forms, or rather because he was convinced, that were God's power withdrawn from him, he would be laid prostrate as if he were dead. He next promises, that when he shall be again restored to life, he will not be ungrateful, but will duly acknowledge this as a blessing from God, and that not only with the tongue, but also in his whole life. As the various instances in which God succors us and delivers us from dangers are so many new lives, it is reasonable that we should dedicate to his service whatever additional time is allotted to us in this world. When the law is called the testimony of God's mouth, by this eulogium its authority is very plainly asserted.

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