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Commentary On Psalms Volume 5 by Jean Calvin

Psalm 120:1-4

1. I cried to Jehovah in my distress, and he answered me.2. O Jehovah! deliver my soul from the lips of falsehood, and from the tongue of deceit. 3. What shall the tongue of deceit give thee, and what shall avail thee? 4. The arrows of a strong man sharpened, with coals of junipers.

1. I cried to Jehovah in my distress. The name of the author of the Psalm is not expressed, but the style of it throughout presents David to our view. Although, therefore, I cannot positively affirm, yet I am rather inclined to think that it was composed by him. Nor will it be improper, in my judgment, to explain it as if his name had been mentioned in the inscription. This, then, being granted, I would observe that although David, when in this verse he affirms that the Lord had heard him, gives thanks to him, yet his chief purpose was to set forth, in the form of complaint, how wickedly and cruelly Saul's flatterers employed all their ingenuity and power to accomplish his destruction. He, however, sets out with an expression of his gratitude to God, telling us that he had not called upon Him in vain; and he does this, that by his own example he might encourage others, especially when oppressed with adversity, to confidence in prayer. Men, it is true, have need of God's help every moment; but there is not a more suitable season for seeking him than when some great danger is immediately menacing us. It is therefore worthy of notice, that he was heard when, constrained and shut up by tribulation, he betook himself to the protection of God.

2. O Jehovah! deliver my soul from the lip of falsehood. David now points out the kind of his affliction, declaring that he was loaded with false accusations. In charging his enemies with lying and falsehood, he asserts his own innocence of the crimes which they slanderously imputed to him. His complaint therefore amounts to this, that as he was conscious of having committed no fault, he was assaulted by the wicked contrary to all law, human and divine, and that they brought him into hatred without his having given them any occasion for such injurious treatment. Deceitful tongues assault good and simple people in two ways' they either circumvent them by wiles and snares, or wound their reputation by calumnies. It is of the second way that the Prophet here complains. Now if David, who was endued with such eminent virtue, and free from every mark of disgrace, and far removed from every wicked action, was yet assailed with contumely, is it to be wondered at if the children of God in the present day labor under false accusations, and that when they have endeavored to conduct themselves uprightly they are yet in reported of? As they have the devil for their enemy, it is indeed impossible for them to escape being loaded with his lies. Yea, we see that slanderous tongues did not spare even the Son of God -- a consideration which should induce us to bear the more patiently our condition, when the wicked traduce us undeservedly; since it is certain that we have here described the common lot of the whole Church.

3. What shall the tongue of deceit give thee? The Prophet aggravates the malice of his enemies by asserting that they were so wickedly inclined as to be driven to evil speaking when they saw no prospect of deriving any advantage from such a course of conduct. He however seems to express more than this, -- he seems farther to intimate, that after they have poured forth all the venom of their calumnies, their attempts will nevertheless be vain and ineffectual. As God is the maintainer of the innocence of his servants, David, inspired with hope from this truth, rises up against them with heroic courage, as if about to triumph over the whole crowd of his calumniators, reproaching them for doing nothing else than betraying an impotent passion for evil speaking, which God at length would cause to recoil upon their own heads. It is a consideration well fitted to assuage the grief of all the godly, when their good name is unrighteously wounded by calumniators, that such malicious characters will gain nothing thereby in the end, because God will disappoint their expectation.

4. The arrows of a strong man sharpened, with coals of juniper. Here the Psalmist amplifies in another way the malice of such as distress the simple and innocent by their calumnies, affirming that they throw out their injurious reports just like a man who should draw an arrow, and with it pierce through the body of his neighbor; and that their calumnies were like coals of juniper, which penetrate more effectually, and burn more intensely the substances with which they come in contact than the coals of any other kind of wood. The amount is, that the tongues of these slanderers were inflamed with the burning heat of fire, and, as it were, dipped in deadly poison; and that such persons were the less excusable, from the fact that, without deriving any advantage from it, they were impelled by an unbridled passion to inflict upon others deadly mischief. As the Prophet records nothing here which he did not experience in his own person, it may be inferred that if it behoved him and men of a similar character to be assailed by their enemies with lies, which were to them as arrows to pierce them, or coals to burn them, we need not be surprised at seeing the most eminent servants of God exercised with similar assaults.

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