Psalms 36

PSALM XXXVI

The miserable state of the wicked, 1-4.

The excellence of God's mercy in itself, and to his followers,

5-9.

He prays for the upright, 10;

for himself that he may be saved from pride and violence, 11;

and shows the end of the workers of iniquity, 12.

NOTES ON PSALM XXXVI

The title in the Hebrew is, To the conqueror, to the servant of

Jehovah, to David. The Syriac and Arabic suppose it to have been

composed on occasion of Saul's persecution of David. Calmet

supposes, on good grounds, that it was written during the

Babylonish captivity. It is one of the finest Psalms in the whole

collection.

Verse 1. The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart]

It is difficult to make any sense of this line as it now stands.

How can the transgression of the wicked speak within my heart? But

instead of libbi, MY heart, four of Kennicott's and De

Rossi's MSS. have libbo, HIS heart. "The speech of

transgression to the wicked is in the midst of his heart." "There

is no fear of God before his eyes." It is not by example that such

a person sins; the fountain that sends forth the impure streams is

in his own heart. There the spirit of transgression lives and

reigns; and, as he has no knowledge of God, so he has no fear of

God; therefore, there is no check to his wicked propensities: all

come to full effect. Lust is conceived, sin is brought forth

vigorously, and transgression is multiplied. The reading above

proposed, and which should be adopted, is supported by the

Vulgate, Septuagint, Syriac, AEthiopic, Arabic, and Anglo-Saxon.

This latter reads the sentence thus: [Anglo-Saxon]; which I shall

give as nearly as possible in the order of the original. "Quoth

the unrightwise, that he do guilt in himself: is not fear God's at

fore eyes his." That is, The unrighteous man saith in himself that

he will sin: God's fear is not before his eyes. The old Psalter,

in language as well as meaning, comes very near to the

Anglo-Saxon: The unrightwis saide that he trespas in hym self: the

drede of God es noght before his een. And thus it paraphrases the

passage: The unryghtwis, that es the kynde [the whole generation]

of wyked men; saide in hym self, qwar man sees noght; that he

trespas, that es, he synne at his wil, als [as if] God roght noght

[did not care] qwat he did; and so it es sene, that the drede of

God es noght by fore his een; for if he dred God, he durst noght

so say."

I believe these versions give the true sense of the passage. The

psalmist here paints the true state of the Babylonians: they were

idolaters of the grossest kind, and worked iniquity with

greediness. The account we have in the book of Daniel of this

people, exhibits them in the worst light; and profane history

confirms the account. Bishop Horsley thinks that the word

pesha, which we render transgression, signifies the apostate or

devil. The devil says to the wicked, within his heart, There is

no fear; i.e., no cause of fear: "God is not before his eyes."

Placing the colon after fear takes away all ambiguity in

connection with the reading HIS heart, already contended for. The

principle of transgression, sin in the heart, says, or suggests

to every sinner, there is no cause for fear: go on, do not fear,

for there is no danger. He obeys this suggestion, goes on, and

acts wickedly, as "God is not before his eyes."

Verse 2. For he flattereth himself] He is ruled by the

suggestion already mentioned; endeavours to persuade himself that

he may safely follow the propensities of his own heart, until his

iniquity be found to be hateful. He sins so boldly, that at last

he becomes detestable. Some think the words should be thus

understood: "He smootheth over in his own eyes with respect to the

finding out of his iniquity, to hate it. That is, he sets such a

false gloss in his own eyes upon his worst actions, that he never

finds out the blackness of his iniquity; which were it perceived

by him, would be hateful even to himself."-Bishop Horsley.

Verse 3. The words of his mouth are iniquity] In the principle;

and deceit calculated to pervert others, and lead them astray.

He hath left off to be wise, and to do good.] His heart is

become foolish, and his actions wicked. He has cut off the

connection between himself and all righteousness.

Verse 4. He deviseth mischief upon his bed] He seeks the silent

and undisturbed watches of the night, in order to fix his plans of

wickedness.

He setteth himself] Having laid his plans, he fixes his purpose

to do what is bad; and he does it without any checks of conscience

or abhorrence of evil. He is bent only on mischief, and lost to

all sense of God and goodness. A finished character of a perfect

sinner.

Verse 5. Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens] That is, thou art

abundant, infinite in thy mercy; else such transgressors must be

immediately cut off; but thy long-suffering is intended to lead

them to repentance.

Thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds] ad

shechakim, to the eternal regions; above all visible space. God's

faithfulness binds him to fulfil the promises and covenants made

by his mercy. Blessings from the heavens, from the clouds, from

the earth, are promised by God to his followers; and his

faithfulness is in all those places, to distribute to his

followers the mercies he has promised.

Verse 6. Thy righteousness is like the great mountains.]

keharerey El, like the mountains of God; exceeding high

mountains; what, in the present language of geology, would be

called primitive mountains, those that were formed at the

beginning; and are not the effects of earthquakes or inundations,

as secondary and alluvial mountains are supposed to be.

Thy judgments are a great deep] tehom rabbah, the

great abyss; as incomprehensible as the great chaos, or first

matter of all things which God created in the beginning, and which

is mentioned Ge 1:2,

and darkness was on the face, tehom, of the deep, the vast

profound, or what is below all conjecturable profundity. How

astonishing are the thoughts in these two verses! What an idea do

they give us of the mercy, truth, righteousness, and judgments of

God!

The old Psalter, in paraphrasing mountains of God, says, Thi

ryghtwisnes, that es, ryghtwis men, er gastly hilles of God; for

that er hee in contemplacioun, and soner resayves the lyght of

Crist. Here is a metaphor taken from the tops of mountains and

high hills first catching the rays of the rising sun. "Righteous

men are spiritual hills of God; for they are high in

contemplation, and sooner receive the light of Christ." It is

really a very fine thought; and much beyond the rudeness of the

times in which this Psalter was written.

Man and beast.] Doth God take care of cattle? Yes, he appoints

the lions their food, and hears the cry of the young ravens; and

will he not provide for the poor, especially the poor of his

people? He will. So infinitely and intensely good is the nature of

God, that it is his delight to make all his creatures happy. He

preserves the man, and he preserves the beast; and it is his

providence which supplies the man, when his propensities and

actions level him with the beasts that perish.

Verse 7. How excellent is thy loving-kindness] He asks the

question in the way of admiration; but expects no answer from

angels or men. It is indescribably excellent, abundant, and free;

and, "therefore, the children of Adam put their trust under the

shadow of thy wings." They trust in thy good providence for the

supply of their bodies; they trust in thy mercy for the salvation

of their souls. These, speaking after the figure, are the two

wings of the Divine goodness, under which the children of men take

refuge. The allusion may be to the wings of the cherubim, above

the mercy-seat.

Verse 8. They shall be abundantly satisfied] yirveyun,

they shall be saturated, as a thirsty field is by showers from

heaven. Inebriaduntur, they shall be inebriated.-Vulgate. That sal

be drunken of the plenteuoste of thi house.-Old Psalter. This

refers to the joyous expectation they had of being restored to

their own land, and to the ordinances of the temple.

Of the river of thy pleasures.] nachal adaneycha,

(or edencha, as in four MSS.,) the river of thy Eden. They

shall be restored to their paradisaical estate; for here is a

reference to the river that ran through the garden of Eden, and

watered it; Ge 2:10. Or the

temple, and under it the Christian Church, may be compared to

this Eden; and the gracious influences of God to be had in his

ordinances, to the streams by which that garden was watered,

and its fertility promoted.

Verse 9. For with thee is the fountain of life] This, in

Scripture phrase, may signify a spring of water; for such was

called among the Jews living water, to distinguish it from ponds,

tanks, and reservoirs, that were supplied by water either received

from the clouds, or conducted into them by pipes and streams

from other quarters. But there seems to be a higher allusion in

the sacred text. ki immecha mekor chaiyim, "For

with thee is the vein of lives." Does not this allude to the great

aorta, which, receiving the blood from the heart, distributes it

by the arteries to every part of the human body, whence it is

conducted back to the heart by means of the veins. As the heart,

by means of the great aorta, distributes the blood to the remotest

parts of the body; so, GOD, by Christ Jesus, conveys the

life-giving streams of his providential goodness to all the worlds

and beings he has created, and the influences of his grace and

mercy to every soul that has sinned. All spiritual and temporal

good comes from Him, the FATHER, through Him, the SON, to every

part of the creation of God.

In thy light shall we see light.] No man can illuminate his own

soul; all understanding must come from above. Here the metaphor is

changed, and God is compared to the sun in the firmament of

heaven, that gives light to all the planets and their inhabitants.

"God said, Let there be light; and there was light; "by that light

the eye of man was enabled to behold the various works of God, and

the beauties of creation: so, when God speaks light into the dark

heart of man, he not only beholds his own deformity and need of

the salvation of God, but he beholds the "light of the glory of

God in the face of Jesus Christ;" "God, in Christ, reconciling the

world to himself." "In thy light shall we see light." This is

literally true, both in a spiritual and philosophical sense.

Verse 10. O continue thy loving-kindness] Literally, "Draw out

thy mercy." The allusion to the spring is still kept up.

Unto them that know thee] To them who acknowledge thee in the

midst of a crooked and perverse generation.

And thy righteousness] That grace which justifies the ungodly,

and sanctifies the unholy.

To the upright in heart.] levishrey leb, to the

straight of heart; to those who have but one end in view, and one

aim to that end. This is true of every genuine penitent, and of

every true believer.

Verse 11. Let not the foot of pride come against me] Let me not

be trampled under foot by proud and haughty men.

Let not the hand of the wicked remove me.] tenideni, shake

me, or cause me to wander. Both these verses may have immediate

respect to the captives in Babylon. The Jews were, when compared

with the Babylonians, the people that knew God; for in Jewry was

God known, Ps 76:1; and the psalmist prays against the treatment

which the Jews had received from the proud and insolent

Babylonians during the seventy years of their captivity: "Restore

us to our own land; and let not the proud foot or the violent hand

ever remove us from our country and its blessings; the temple, and

its ordinances."

Verse 12. There are the workers of iniquity fallen] THERE, in

Babylon, are the workers of iniquity fallen, and so cast down that

they shall not be able to rise. A prophecy of the destruction of

the Babylonish empire by Cyrus. That it was destroyed, is an

historical fact; that they were never able to recover their

liberty, is also a fact; and that Babylon itself is now blotted

out of the map of the universe, so that the site of it is no

longer known, is confirmed by every traveller who has passed over

those regions.

The word sham, THERE, has been applied by many of the fathers

to the pride spoken of in the preceding verse. There, in or by

pride, says Augustine, do all sinners perish. There, in heaven,

have the evil angels fallen through pride, says St. Jerome. There,

in paradise, have our first parents fallen, through pride and

disobedience. There, in hell, have the proud and disobedient

angels been precipitated.-Eusebius, &c. THERE, by pride, have the

persecutors brought God's judgments upon themselves. See Calmet.

But the first interpretation is the best.

ANALYSIS OF THE THIRTY-SIXTH PSALM

The object of this Psalm is to implore God, out of his goodness,

that he would deliver the upright from the pride and malice of the

wicked.

I. The psalmist sets down the character of a wicked man, and his

fearful state, Ps 36:1-5.

II. He makes a narrative in commendation of God's mercy,

Ps 36:6-10.

III. He prays for a continuance of God's goodness to his people,

petitions against his proud enemy, and exults at his fall,

Ps 36:10-12.

I. The character of a wicked man:-

1. "There is no fear of God before his eyes;" and from this, as

an evil root, all the other evils spring: and thus he enters on an

induction of particulars.

2. "He flattereth himself in his own eyes." A great sin, in his

eyes, is no sin: vice is virtue; falsehood, truth.

3. In this he continues, "until his iniquity be found to be

hateful;"-till God, by some heavy judgment, has passed his

sentence against it.

4. He is full of hypocrisy and deceit; "the words of his mouth

are iniquity and deceit;" he gives goodly words, but evil is in

his heart.

5. He has renounced all wisdom and goodness: "He hath left off

to be wise, and to do good."

6. He enters deliberately and coolly into evil plans and

designs: 1. "He deviseth mischief upon his bed." 2. "He sets

himself (of firm purpose) in the way that is not good. 3. "He

abhors not evil." He invents wickedness; he labours to perfect it;

yea, though it be of the deepest stain, he abhors it not.

II. How comes it that such wicked men are permitted to live? How

is it that God can bear patiently with such workers of iniquity?

The psalmist answers this question by pointing out God's mercy,

from which this long-suffering proceeds; which he considers in a

twofold point of view: 1. Absolute and general, extending to

all. 2. Particular, which is exhibited to the faithful only.

1. General. God is good to all; which is seen in his

bountifulness, fidelity, justice; and in his preservation of all

things: 1. "Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens." Thou preservest

them. Thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds. They water the

earth, as thou hast promised. 3. "Thy righteousness is like the

great mountains." Immovable. 4. "Thy judgments are a great deep."

Unsearchable, and past finding out. 5. "Thou Lord, preservest man

and beast." In thee we live, move, and have our being.

2. In particular. He is especially careful of his followers. The

providence by which he sustains them is, 1. A precious thing: "O,

how excellent (quam pretiosa) how precious is thy loving-kindness,

O Lord!" The operation of which, in behalf of the faithful, is

hope, confidence, and comfort in distress: "Therefore the children

of men shall put their trust under the shadow," &c. 2. The effects

of this, the plenty of all good things prepared for them: 1. "They

shall be abundantly satisfied with the goodness of thy house." 2.

"Thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures." To

which he adds the cause: "For with thee is the fountain of life;

in thy light we shall see light."

III. He concludes with a prayer, 1. For all God's people. 2. For

himself.

1. He prays that this excellent and precious mercy may light on

all those who serve God sincerely: "O continue thy loving-kindness

to them that know thee."

2. He prays for himself; that he may be defended from the pride

and violence of wicked men: "Let not the foot of pride come

against me; and let not the hand of the wicked remove me."

3. Lastly, he closes all with this exultation: "There are the

workers of iniquity fallen!" There, when they promised themselves

peace and security, and said, Tush! no harm shall happen to us;

there and then are they fallen: "They are cast down, and shall

not be able to rise."

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