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Commentary On Psalms Volume 2 by Jean Calvin

Psalm 38:15-20

15. For on thee, O Jehovah! do I wait: thou wilt answer me, O Lord! my God.16. For I said, lest they rejoice over me when my foot slippeth, they magnify themselves against me.17. Surely I am ready to halt, and my sorrow is continually before me.18. Surely I declare my iniquity; and I am dismayed because of my sin.19. And yet my enemies living are become strong; and they that oppose me wrongfully are become mighty.20. And they that reader me evil for good are opposed to me; because I follow that which is good.

15 For on thee, O Jehovah! do I wait. David here shows the source of his patience. It consisted in this, that, trusting in the grace of God, he overcame all the temptations of the world. And certainly, the mind of man will never be framed to gentleness and meekness, nor will he be able to subdue his passions, until he has learned never to give up hope. The Psalmist, at the same time, adds, that he cherished his hope by constant meditation, lest he should yield to despair. And this is the only means of our perseverance, when, on the ground of his own promises, with which we are furnished, we appeal to him, yea, rather when setting before our view his fidelity and his constancy in fulfilling what he has promised, we are sureties to ourselves for him. Accordingly, Paul, in Romans 5:4, very properly joins patience to hope and consolation. The repetition of terms in this verse shows, that this holy man was subjected to a severe and arduous conflict. Thou, he says, O Lord! my God, wilt answer me. His language implies, that if God should delay to come to his help, there was reason to fear that he would faint from weariness, or fall into despair, unless, setting this double defense before him, he persevered valiantly in the conflict.

16 For I said, lest they rejoice over me. Here he also confirms his faith and his earnestness in prayer from this consideration, that if he should be forsaken of God, his enemies would triumph. This indignity, on their part, is of no small weight in inducing God to help us; for the wicked, in thus magnifying themselves against us, and indulging in derision, not only make war with our flesh, but also directly assail our faith and endeavor to destroy whatever there is of religion and the fear of God in our hearts. What is the object of all their mockery, but to persuade us that what God has promised is vain and worthless? The Psalmist immediately adds, that it is not without cause that he is struck with the fear that his enemies would rejoice over him, since he had already had experience of their proud boastings. We are taught from this passage, that in proportion as our enemies increase in insolence and cruelty towards us, or, seeing us already overwhelmed by a heavy load of adversities, in their proud disdain trample us under their feet, we ought to cherish the greater hope that God will come to our help.

17 Surely I am ready to halt This verse has led expositors to suppose that David was afflicted with some sore, from which he was afraid of having brought upon him the infirmity of halting all his days; but I have already shown, in Psalm 35:15, that this supposition is very improbable. We have certainly no greater reason for supposing that David was lame than that Jeremiah was so, when he said,

|All my familiars watched for my halting.| --
(Jeremiah 20:10,)

I therefore think that David here employs a metaphorical mode of expression, and that his meaning is, that if God did not soon come to his aid, there was no hope of his ever being restored to his former condition; and that he was so greatly afflicted, that he would walk as if he had been maimed or lame all the days of his life. It next follows by way of exposition, that his sorrow was continually before him. The sense is, that he was so grievously afflicted, that he could not forget it for a single moment, so as to obtain some relaxation. In both the clauses of the verse, David confesses that his disease is incurable, unless he obtain some remedy from God, and that he cannot endure it, unless he be raised up and sustained by the hand of God himself. This is the reason why he directs all his thoughts and his requests to God alone; for as soon as he shall turn aside from him, he sees nothing but immediate ruin.

18 and 19 Surely I declare my iniquity. By comparison, he amplifies what he had just said concerning the pride and the reproachful conduct of his enemies; for he says, that whilst he is lying in a filthy and wretched condition, like a wicked man, and one abandoned by God, they fly about in mirth and gladness, nay, they carry their heads high, because they are rich and powerful. But first, it is proper to notice in what sense it is that he declares his sin. Those, in my judgment, are mistaken, who understand this passage simply in the sense of a confession of his guilt before God, that he might obtain forgiveness. According to their interpretation, the Psalmist is supposed to repeat here what we have seen he said

|I acknowledged my sin unto thee,
and mine iniquity have I not hid.| -- (Psalm 32:5)

But in this place he is not speaking so much of his repentance, as he is bewailing his sad and miserable condition; and, therefore, sin and iniquity are to be understood of the afflictions and chastisements which are the tokens of God's wrath; as if he had said, that the hand of God was against him, and lying so heavily upon him, that from the very sight of the misery to which he was reduced, the world in general might regard him as a condemned and reprobate man. In order to render the meaning more obvious, the 18th and 19th verses must be read together, thus: I declare my iniquity, and my enemies are living; I am dismayed because of my sin, but they are become strong. I do not, however, deny that he regards the miseries to which he was subjected as proceeding from his sins. In this respect, the godly differ from the wicked, that, being admonished of their transgression by adversity, they humbly sist themselves before the judgment-seat of God. Accordingly, judging of the cause from the effects, he takes into account these two things: First, That thus overwhelmed and afflicted, he is lying under a heavy load of miseries; and, secondly, That all these evils are justly inflicted as chastisements for sin.

This living, which he attributes to his enemies, implies as much as to enjoy continued and abundant prosperity in all things; and therefore he adds, that they are become strong and increase in power I interpret the word rvv, rabbab, in this place, increase in power, because he would speak improperly were he to be understood as saying, that they were multiplied. He does not here complain that they increased in number, but rather exalts their greatness, because the more they acquired of riches, they acquired so much the greater audacity in oppressing the good and the simple. He tells us that he is assailed by them wrongfully, and without cause, that he may induce God to be the more favorable and propitious to him. And surely, if we would have the favor of God for our defense, we must always take care not to injure any man, and to do nothing to provoke the hatred of any against us.

This is more fully confirmed in the following verse, in which he declares that they requited him evil for the good which he had done them. More than this, however, is implied in the language of David. It implies that he not only abstained from all hurtful dealing towards his enemies, but that he had done them all the good which was in his power; and on this account the rage of the wicked is the less excusable, which not only moves them to do harm to others without cause, but which likewise cannot be appeased by any marks of kindness exercised towards them. It is indeed true, that there is nothing which wounds those of an ingenuous disposition of mind more than when wicked and ungodly men recompense them in a manner so dishonorable and unjust; but when they reflect upon this consolatory consideration, that God is no less offended with such ingratitude than those to whom the injury is done, they have no reason to be troubled beyond measure. To mitigate their sorrow, let this doctrine be the subject of their frequent meditation, That whenever the wicked, to whom we have endeavored to do good, shall requite us evil for good, God will certainly be their judge. In the last place, it is added, as the highest degree of their desperate wickedness, that they hated David because he studied to practice uprightness: They are opposed to me, because I follow that which is good It must be admitted, that those are froward and wicked in the extreme, nay, even of a devilish disposition, who hold uprightness in such abhorrence that they deliberately make war upon those who follow after it. It is, indeed, a very sore temptation, that the people of God, the more sincerely they endeavor to serve him, should procure to themselves so much the more trouble and sorrow; but this consideration ought to prove a sufficient ground of consolation to them, that they are not only supported by the testimony of a good conscience, but that they also know that God is ever ready, and that, too, for this very reason, to manifest his mercy towards them. On the ground of this assurance, they dare to appear in the presence of God, and entreat him, as it is his cause as well as theirs, that he would maintain and defend it. There can be no doubt that David, by his own example, has prescribed this as a common rule to all the faithful, rather to incur the hatred and ill-will of the world, than in the least degree to swerve from the path of duty, and without any hesitation to regard those as their enemies whom they know to be opposed to that which is just and righteous.

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