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Commentary On Psalms Volume 5 by Jean Calvin

Psalm 129:5-8

5. All who hate Zion shall be confounded, and turned backward.6. They shall be as the grass of the housetops', which is withered before it comes forth: 7. With which the mower hath not filled his hand, nor the gleaner his bosom. 8. Neither have they who pass by said, The blessing of Jehovah be upon you: we bless you in the name of Jehovah.

5. All who hate Zion shall be confounded, and tutored backward. Whether we take this as a prayer or a promise, the Prophet has a respect to the time to come. Since all the verbs are in the future tense, it is certainly a very appropriate interpretation to understand him as deriving from times past instruction as to what is to be hoped for in future, even to the end. In whichever way we understand the passage, he declares that the faithful have no reason to be discouraged when they behold their enemies raised on high. The grass which grows upon the house-tops is not, on account of its higher situation, more valuable than the blade of corn which in the low ground is trampled under foot; for although it stands elevated above men's heads, it is, in the first place, unprofitable; and secondly, it quickly withers away. The verb, phls, shalaph, which we have translate comes forth, is by some rendered, is plucked up. According to this translation the sense is, that without the hand or labor of man the grass on the house-tops is dried up. But as the verb properly signifies to be brought forth, or to come forth, the meaning, in my opinion, is that the grass on the housetops, so far from continuing long in a state of freshness, withers and perishes at its first springing up, because it has no root under it, nor earth to supply it with sap or moisture for its nourishment. Whenever, then, the splendor or greatness of our enemies strikes us with fear, let us bring to our recollection this comparison, that as the grass which grows upon the house-tops, though high, is yet without root, and consequently of brief duration, so these enemies, the nearer they approach the sun by the height of their pride, shall be the sooner consumed by the burning heat, since they have no root, it being humility alone which draws life and vigor from God.

7 With which the mower hath not filled his hand. We have here an additional confirmation of the truth, that although the wicked mount high or elevate themselves, and form an extravagant opinion of their own importance, yet they continue mere grass, not bringing forth any good fruit, nor reaching a state of ripeness, but swelling only with fresh appearance. To make this obvious, the Psalmist sets them in opposition to fruit-bearing herbs, which in valleys and low grounds produce fruit for men. In fine, he affirms that they deserve to be hated or despised of all, whereas commonly every one in passing by the corn fields blesses them and prays for the harvest? Farther, he has borrowed this illustration of his doctrine from the affairs of ordinary life, we are taught that whenever there is a hopeful prospect of a good harvest, we ought to beseech God, whose peculiar province it is to impart fertility to the earth, that he would give full effect to his blessing. And considering that the fruits of the earth are exposed to so many hazards, it is certainly strange that we are not stirred up to engage in the exercise of prayer from the absolute necessity of these to man and beast. Nor does the Psalmist, in speaking of passers by blessing the reapers, speak exclusively of rite children of God, who are truly taught by his word that the fruitfulness of the earth is owing to his goodness; but he also comprehends worldly men in whom the same knowledge is implanted naturally. In conclusion, provided we not only dwell in the Church of the Lord, but also labor to have place among the number of her genuine citizens, we will be able fearlessly to despise all fire might of our enemies; for although they may flourish and have a great outward show for a time, yet they are but barren grass, on which the curse of heaven rests.

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