Matthew Henry (1662-1714): 2 Peter 1:5-11

2 Peter 1:5-11

Matthew Henry (1662-1714)
Copyright Public Domain

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In these words the apostle comes to the chief thing intended in this epistle – to excite and engage them to advance in grace and holiness, they having already obtained precious faith, and been made partakers of the divine nature. This is a very good beginning, but it is not to be rested in, as if we were already perfect. The apostle had prayed that grace and peace might be multiplied to them, and now he exhorts them to press forward for the obtaining of more grace. We should, as we have opportunity, exhort those we pray for, and excite them to the use of all proper means to obtain what we desire God to bestow upon them; and those who will make any progress in religion must be very diligent and industrious in their endeavours. Without giving all diligence, there is no gaining any ground in the work of holiness; those who are slothful in the business of religion will make nothing of it; we must strive if we will enter in at the strait gate, Luke 13:24.

I. Here we cannot but observe how the believer’s way is marked out step by step. 1. He must get virtue, by which some understand justice; and then the knowledge, temperance, and patience that follow, being joined with it, the apostle may be supposed to put them upon pressing after the four cardinal virtues, or the four elements that go to the making up of every virtue or virtuous action. But seeing it is a faithful saying, and constantly to be asserted, that those who have faith be careful to maintain good works (Titus 3:8), by virtue here we may understand strength and courage, without which the believer cannot stand up for good works, by abounding and excelling in them. The righteous must be bold as a lion (Proverbs 28:1); a cowardly Christian, who is afraid to profess the doctrines or practise the duties of the gospel, must expect that Christ will be ashamed of him another day. “Let not your hearts fail you in the evil day, but show yourselves valiant in standing against all opposition, and resisting every enemy, world, flesh, devil, yea, and death too.” We have need of virtue while we live, and it will be of excellent use when we come to die. 2. The believer must add knowledge to his virtue, prudence to his courage; there is a knowledge of God’s name which must go before our faith (Psalm 9:10), and we cannot approve of the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God, till we know it; but there are proper circumstances for duty, which must be known and observed; we must use the appointed means, and observe the accepted time. Christian prudence regards the persons we have to do with and the place and company we are in. Every believer must labour after the knowledge and wisdom that are profitable to direct, both as to the proper method and order wherein all Christian duties are to be performed and as to the way and manner of performing them. 3. We must add temperance to our knowledge. We must be sober and moderate in our love to, and use of, the good things of this life; and, if we have a right understanding and knowledge of outward comforts, we shall see that their worth and usefulness are vastly inferior to those of spiritual mercies. Bodily exercises and bodily privileges profit but little, and therefore are to be esteemed and used accordingly; the gospel teaches sobriety as well as honesty, Titus 2:12. We must be moderate in desiring and using the good things of natural life, such as meat, drink, clothes, sleep, recreations, and credit; an inordinate desire after these is inconsistent with an earnest desire after God and Christ; and those who take more of these than is due can render to neither God nor man what is due to them. 4. Add to temperance patience, which must have its perfect work, or we cannot be perfect and entire, wanting nothing (James 1:4), for we are born to trouble, and must through many tribulations enter into the kingdom of heaven; and it is this tribulation (Romans 5:3) which worketh patience, that is, requires the exercise and occasions the increase of this grace, whereby we bear all calamities and crosses with silence and submission, without murmuring against God or complaining of him, but justifying him who lays all affliction upon us, owning that our sufferings are less than our sins deserve, and believing they are no more than we ourselves need. 5. To patience we must add godliness, and this is the very thing which is produced by patience, for that works experience, Romans 5:4. When Christians bear afflictions patiently, they get an experimental knowledge of the loving-kindness of their heavenly Father, which he will not take from his children, even when he visits their iniquity with the rod and their transgression with stripes (Psalm 89:32, Psalm 89:33), and hereby they are brought to the child-like fear and reverential love wherein true godliness consists: to this, 6. We must add brotherly-kindness, a tender affection to all our fellow Christians, who are children of the same Father, servants of the same Master, members of the same family, travellers to the same country, and heirs of the same inheritance, and therefore are to be loved with a pure heart fervently, with a love of complacency, as those who are peculiarly near and dear to us, in whom we take particular delight, Psalm 16:3. 7. Charity, or a love of good-will to all mankind, must be added to the love of delight which we have for those who are the children of God. God has made of one blood all nations, and all the children of men are partakers of the same human nature, are all capable of the same mercies, and liable to the same afflictions, and therefore, though upon a spiritual account Christians are distinguished and dignified above those who are without Christ, yet are they to sympathize with others in their calamities, and relieve their necessities, and promote their welfare both in body and soul, as they have opportunity: thus must all believers in Christ evidence that they are the children of God, who is good to all, but is especially good to Israel.

II. All the aforementioned graces must be had, or we shall not be thoroughly furnished for all good works – for the duties of the first and second table, for active and passive obedience, and for those services wherein we are to imitate God as well as for those wherein we only obey him – and therefore to engage us to an industrious and unwearied pursuit of them, the apostle sets forth the advantages that redound to all who successfully labour so as to get these things to be and abound in them, 2Peter 1:8-11. These are proposed,

1. More generally, 2Peter 1:8. The having these things make not barren (or slothful) nor unfruitful, where, according to the style of the Holy Ghost, we must understand a great deal more than is expressed; for when it is said concerning Ahaz, the vilest and most provoking of all the kings of Judah, that he did not right in the sight of the Lord (2Kings 16:2), we are to understand as much as if it had been said, He did what was most offensive and abominable, as the following account of his life shows; so, when it is here said that the being and abounding of all Christian graces in us will make us neither inactive nor unfruitful, we are thereby to understand that it will make us very zealous and lively, vigorous and active, in all practical Christianity, and eminently fruitful in the works of righteousness; these will bring much glory to God, by bringing forth much fruit among men, being fruitful in knowledge, or the acknowledging of our Lord Jesus Christ, owning him to be their Lord, and evidencing themselves to be his servants by their abounding in the work that he has given them to do. This is the necessary consequence of adding one grace to another; for, where all Christian graces are in the heart, they improve and strengthen, encourage and cherish, one another; so they all thrive and grow (as the apostle intimates in the beginning of 2Peter 1:8), and wherever grace abounds there will be an abounding in good works. How desirable it is to be in such a case the apostle evidences, 2Peter 1:9. There he sets forth how miserable it is to be without those quickening fructifying graces; for he who has not the aforementioned graces, or, though he pretends or seems to have them, does not exercise and improve them, is blind, that is, as to spiritual and heavenly things, as the next words explain it: He cannot see far off. This present evil world he can see, and dotes upon, but has no discerning at all of the world to come, so as to be affected with the spiritual privileges and heavenly blessings thereof. He who sees the excellences of Christianity must needs be diligent in endeavours after all those graces that are absolutely necessary for obtaining glory, honour, and immortality; but, where these graces are not obtained nor endeavoured after, men are not able to look forward to the things that are but a very little way off in reality, though in appearance, or in their apprehension, they are at a great distance, because they put them far away from them; and how wretched is their condition who are thus blind as to the awfully great things of the other world, who cannot see any thing of the reality and certainty, the greatness and nearness, of the glorious rewards God will bestow on the righteous, and the dreadful punishment he will inflict on the ungodly! But this is not all the misery of those who do not add to their faith virtue, knowledge, etc. They are as unable to look backward as forward, their memories are slippery and unable to retain what is past, as their sight is short and unable to discern what is future; they forget that they have been baptized, and had the means, and been laid under the obligations to holiness of heart and life. By baptism we are engaged in a holy war against sin, and are solemnly bound to fight against the flesh, the world, and the devil. Often call to mind, and seriously meditate on, your solemn engagement to be the Lord’s, and your peculiar advantages and encouragements to lay aside all filthiness of flesh and spirit.

2. The apostle proposes two particular advantages that will attend or follow upon diligence in the work of a Christian: stability in grace, and a triumphant entrance into glory. These he brings in by resuming his former exhortation, and laying it down in other words; for what in 2Peter 1:5 is expressed by giving diligence to add to faith virtue, etc., is expressed in 2Peter 1:10 by giving diligence to make our calling and election sure. Here we may observe, (1.) It is the duty of believers to make their election sure, to clear it up to themselves that they are the chosen of God. (2.) The way to make sure their eternal election is to make out their effectual calling: none can look into the book of God’s eternal counsels and decrees; but, inasmuch as whom God did predestinate those he also called, if we can find we are effectually called, we may conclude we are chosen to salvation. (3.) It requires a great deal of diligence and labour to make sure our calling and election; there must be a very close examination of ourselves, a very narrow search and strict enquiry, whether we are thoroughly converted, our minds enlightened, our wills renewed, and our whole souls changed as to the bent and inclination thereof; and to come to a fixed certainty in this requires the utmost diligence, and cannot be attained and kept without divine assistance, as we may learn from Psalm 139:23; Romans 8:16. “But, how great soever the labour is, do not think much of it, for great is the advantage you gain by it; for,” [1.] “By this you will be kept from falling, and that at all times and seasons, even in those hours of temptation that shall be on the earth.” When others shall fall into heinous and scandalous sin, those who are thus diligent shall be enabled to walk circumspectly and keep on in the way of their duty; and, when many fall into errors, they shall be preserved sound in the faith, and stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. [2.] Those who are diligent in the work of religion shall have a triumphant entrance into glory; while of those few who get to heaven some are scarcely saved (1Peter 4:18), with a great deal of difficulty, even as by fire (1Corinthians 3:15), those who are growing in grace, and abounding in the work of the Lord, shall have an abundant entrance into the joy of their Lord, even that everlasting kingdom where Christ reigns, and they shall reign with him for ever and ever.

John Calvin (1509-1564): Psalm 88

Psalm 88
John Calvin (1509-1564)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Psalms 88:1

1. O Jehovah! God of my salvation! Let me call upon you particularly to notice what I have just now stated, that although the prophet simply, and without hyperbole, recites the agony which he suffered from the greatness of his sorrows, yet his purpose was at the same time to supply the afflicted with a form of prayer that they might not faint under any adversities, however severe, which might befall them. We will hear him by and by bursting out into vehement complaints on account of the grievousness of his calamities; but he seasonably fortifies himself by this brief exordium, lest, carried away with the heat of his feelings, he might become chargeable with complaining and murmuring against God, instead of humbly supplicating Him for pardon. By applying to Him the appellation of the God of his salvation, casting, as it were, a bridle upon himself, he restrains the excess of his sorrow, shuts the door against despair, and strengthens and prepares himself for the endurance of the cross. When he speaks of his crying and importunity, he indicates the earnestness of soul with which he engaged in prayer. He may not, indeed, have given utterance to loud cries; but he uses the word cry, with much propriety’, to denote the great earnestness of his prayers. The same thing is implied when he tells us that he continued crying days and nights. Nor are the words before thee superfluous. It is common for all men to complain when under the pressure of grief; but they are far from pouring out their groanings before God. Instead of this, the majority of mankind court retirement, that they may murmur against him, and accuse him of undue severity; while others pour forth their cries into the air at random. Hence we gather that it is a rare virtue to set God before our eyes, that we may address our prayers to him.

Psalms 88:3

3. For my soul is filled with troubles. These words contain the excuse which the prophet pleads for the excess of his grief. They imply that his continued crying did not proceed from softness or effeminacy of spirit, but that from a due consideration of his condition, it would be found that the immense accumulation of miseries with which he was oppressed was such as might justly extort from him these lamentations. Nor does he speak of one kind of calamity only; but of calamities so heaped one upon another that his heart was filled with sorrow, till it could contain no more. He next particularly affirms that his life was not far from the grave. This idea he pursues and expresses in terms more significant in the following verse, where he complains that he was, as it were, dead. Although he breathed still among the living, yet the many deaths with which he was threatened on all sides were to him so many graves by which he expected to be swallowed up in a moment. And he seems to use the word גבר , geber, which is derived from גבר , gabar, he prevailed, or was strong, (509) in preference to the word which simply signifies man, — the more emphatically to show that his distresses were so great and crushing as to have been sufficient to bring down the strongest man.

(509) See volume 2, page 320, note 2. Some consider the words מחלת לענות, Machalath Leannoth, which Calvin renders “Machalath, to make humble,” as together denoting an instrument of music. “For my part,” says Dr Morison, “I lean to the idea that these words are intended to denote some musical instrument of the plaintive order; and in this opinion Kimchi and other Jewish writers perfectly agree. They assert that it was a wind-instrument, answering very much to the flute, and employed mainly in giving utterance to sentiments of grief, upon occasions of great sorrow and lamentation.”

Psalms 88:5

5. Free among the dead, lie the slain who lie in the grave. The prophet intended to express something more distressing and grievous than common death. First, he says, that he was free among the dead, because he was rendered unfit for all the business which engages human life, and, as it were, cut off from the world. The refined interpretation of Augustine, that Christ is here described, and that he is said to be free among the dead, because he obtained the victory over death by a special privilege, that it might not have dominion over him, has no connection with the meaning of the passage. (510) The prophet is rather to be understood as affirming, that having finished the course of this present life, his mind had become disengaged from all worldly solicitude; his afflictions having deprived him of all feeling. (511) In the next place, comparing himself with those who have been wounded, he bewails his condition as worse than if, enfeebled by calamities, he were going down to death by little and little; for we are naturally inspired with horror at the prospect of a violent death.

What he adds, that he is forgotten of God, and cut off from his hand or guardianship, is apparently harsh and improper, since it is certain that the dead are no less under the Divine protection than the living. Even wicked Balaam, whose purpose it was to turn light into darkness, was, nevertheless, constrained to cry out,

“Let me die the death of the righteous,
and let my last end be like his,” (Numbers 23:10.)

To say, then, that God is no longer mindful of man after he is dead, might seem to be the language of a heathen. To this it may be answered, That the prophet speaks according to the opinion of the generality of men; just as the Scriptures, in like manner, when treating of the providence of God, accommodate their style to the state of the world as presented to the eye, because our thoughts ascend only by slow degrees to the future and invisible world. I, however, think, that he rather gave utterance to those confused conceptions which arise in the mind of a man under affliction, than that he had an eye to the opinion of the ignorant and uninstructed part of mankind. Nor is it wonderful that a man endued with the Spirit of God was, as it were, so stunned and stupified when sorrow overmastered him, as to allow unadvised words to escape from his lips. Although faith in the truth that God extends his care both to the living and the dead is deeply rooted in the hearts of all his genuine servants, yet sorrow often so overclouds their minds as to exclude from them for the time all remembrance of his providence. From perusing the complaints of Job, we may perceive, that when the minds of the godly are preoccupied with sorrow, they do not immediately pierce to the consideration of the secret providence of God, which yet has been before the subject of their careful meditation, and the truth of which they bear engraven on their hearts. Although the prophet, then, was persuaded that the dead also are under the Divine protection, yet, in the first paroxysm of his grief, he spoke less advisedly than he ought to have done; for the light of faith was, as it were, extinguished in him, although, as we shall see, it soon after shone forth. This it will be highly useful particularly to observe, that, should we be at any time weakened by temptation, we may, nevertheless, be kept from falling into despondency or despair.

(510) גבר geber, therefore, denotes a man “when in vigorous manhood; who is neither a boy nor an old man, yet it is applied to Balaam, when old, in Numbers 24:4.” — Bythner

(511) “‘Free among the dead,’ inter mortuos liber, ” says Dr Adam Clarke, “has been applied by the Fathers to our Lord’s voluntary death: all others were obliged to die; He alone gave up his life, and could take it again, (John 10:18.) He went into the grave and came out when he chose. The dead are bound in the grave: He was free, and not obliged to continue in that state as they were.”

Psalms 88:6

6. Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit. The Psalmist now acknowledges more distinctly, that whatever adversities he endured proceeded from the Divine hand. Nor indeed will any man sincerely betake himself to God to seek relief without a previous persuasion that it is the Divine hand which smites him, and that nothing happens by chance. It is observable that the nearer the prophet approaches God the more is his grief embittered; for nothing is more dreadful to the saints than the judgment of God.

Psalms 88:7

Some translate the first clause of the 7th verse, Thy indignation hath approached upon me; and the Hebrew word סמך, samach, is sometimes to be taken in this sense. But from the scope of the passage, it must necessarily be understood here, as in many other places, in the sense of to surround, or to lie heavy upon; for when the subject spoken of is a man sunk into a threefold grave, it would be too feeble to speak of the wrath of God as merely approaching him. The translation which I have adopted is peculiarly suitable to the whole drift of the text. It views the prophet as declaring, that he sustained the whole burden of God’s wrath; seeing he was afflicted with His waves. Farther, as so dreadful a flood did not prevent him from lifting up his heart and prayers to God, we may learn from his example to cast the anchor of our faith and prayers direct into heaven in all the perils of shipwreck to which we may be exposed.

Psalms 88:8

8. Thou hast removed my acquaintances from me. He was now destitute of all human aid, and that also he attributes to the anger of God, in whose power it is either to bend the hearts of men to humanity, or to harden them, and render them cruel. This is a point well worthy of our attention; for unless we bear in mind that our destitution of human aid in any case is owing to God’s withdrawing his hand, we agitate ourselves without end or measure. We may indeed justly complain of the ingratitude or cruelty of men whenever they defraud us of the just claims of duty which we have upon them; but still this will avail us nothing, unless we are thoroughly convinced that God, being displeased with us, takes away the means of help which he had destined for us; just as it is easy for him, whenever he pleases, to incline the hearts of all men to stretch forth their hand to succor us. The prophet, as an additional and still more grievous element in his distressed condition, tells us that his friends abhorred him. (512) Finally, he concludes by observing, that he could perceive no way of escape from his calamities:I am shut up that I cannot go forth. (513)

(512) This verse has been supposed to contain a reference to the condition of the leper under the law, which much resembled the picture here drawn. חפשי,chophshi, from חפש, chophash, “is free, ” says Hammond, (“in opposition to servitude,)manumitted, set at liberty The use of this word may more generally be taken from 2Chronicles 26:21, where of Uzziah, being a leper, it is said, that he dwelt, בית החפשית, ‘in an house of freedom, for he was cut off from the house of the Lord.’ The meaning is, that after the manner of the lepers, he was excluded from the temple, and dwelt, בר מן ירושלם, saith the Chaldee, there, in some place without Jerusalem, which is therefore called the ‘house of freedom,’ because such as were there were exempt from the common affairs, and shut up from the conversation of men. And in comparison with these, they that are, as it were, dead and laid in their graves, are here said to be free, i e. , removed from all the affairs and conversation of the world.”

(513) “This verse,” observes Dr Adam Clarke, “has been supposed to express the state of a leper, who, because of the infectious nature of his disease, is separated from his family, — is abominable to all, and at last shut up in a separate house, whence he does not come out to mingle with society.” “Heman means,” says Walford, “either that the character of his disease was such that men could not endure to be near him, or that the state of his mind was so disordered that he became wearisome and intolerable; perhaps he includes both.”

Psalms 88:9

9. My eye mourneth because of my affliction. To prevent it from being supposed that he was iron-hearted, he again repeats that his afflictions were so severe and painful as to produce manifest traces of his sorrow, even in his countenance and eyes — a plain indication of the low condition to which he was reduced. But he, notwithstanding, testifies that he was not drawn away from God, like many who, secretly murmuring in their hearts, and, to use a proverbial expression, chafing upon the bit, have nothing farther from their thoughts than to disburden their cares into the bosom of God, in order to derive comfort from Him. In speaking of the stretching out of his hands, he puts the sign for the thing signified. I have elsewhere had an opportunity of explaining the import of this ceremony, which has been in common use in all ages.

Psalms 88:10

10. Wilt thou perform a miracle for the dead? By these words the prophet intimates, that God, if he did not make haste to succor him, would be too late, there being scarce anything betwixt him and death; and that therefore this was the critical juncture, if God was inclined to help him, for should the present opportunity not be embraced another would not occur. He asks how long God meant to delay, — if he meant to do so till death intervened, that he might raise the dead by a miracle? He does not speak of the resurrection at the last day, which will surpass all other miracles, as if he called it in question; yet he cannot be vindicated from the charge of going to excess, for it does not belong to us to prescribe to God the season of succouring us. We impeach his power if we believe not that it is as easy for him to restore life to the dead as to prevent, in proper season, the extreme danger which may threaten us from actually lighting upon us. Great as has been the constancy of the saints, it has always had some mixture of the infirmity of the flesh, which has rendered it necessary for God, in the exercise of his fatherly clemency, to bear with the sin with which even their very virtues have been to a degree contaminated. When the Psalmist asks, Shall thy loving-kindness be declared in the grave? he does not mean that the dead are devoid of consciousness; but he pursues the same sentiment which he had previously stated, That it is a more seasonable time to succor men, whilst in the midst of danger they are as yet crying, than to raise them up from their graves when they are dead. He reasons from what ordinarily happens; it not being God’s usual way to bring the dead out of their graves to be witnesses and publishers of his goodness. To God’s loving-kindness or mercy he annexes his truth or faithfulness; for when God delivers his servants he gives a confirmation of his faithfulness to his promises. And, on the other hand, he is influenced to make his promises by nothing but his own pure goodness. When the prophet affirms, that the divine faithfulness as well as the divine goodness, power, and righteousness, are not known in the land of forgetfulness, some deluded persons foolishly wrest the statement to support a gross error, as if it taught that men were annihilated by death. He speaks only of the ordinary manner in which help is extended by God, who has designed this world to be as a stage on which to display his goodness towards mankind.

Psalms 88:11

13. But to thee have I cried, O Jehovah! There may have been a degree of intemperateness in the language of the prophet, which, as I have granted, cannot be altogether vindicated; but still it was a sign of rare faith and piety to persevere as he did with never-failing earnestness in prayer. This is what is meant when he says, that he made haste in the morning; by which he would have us not to imagine that he slowly and coldly lingered till he was constrained by dire necessity. At the same time, he modestly intimates by these words, that his pining away in long continued miseries was not owing to his own sluggishness, as if he had not sought God. This is an example particularly worthy of notice, that we may not become discouraged if it happen sometimes that our prayers are for a time unsuccessful, although they may proceed from the heart, and may be assiduously persevered in.

Psalms 88:14

14. Wherefore, O Jehovah! wilt thou reject my soul? These lamentations at first sight would seem to indicate a state of mind in which sorrow without any consolation prevailed; but they contain in them tacit prayers. The Psalmist does not proudly enter into debate with God, but mournfully desires some remedy to his calamities. This kind of complaint justly deserves to be reckoned among the unutterable groanings of which Paul makes mention in Romans 8:26. Had the prophet thought himself rejected and abhorred by God, he certainly would not have persevered in prayer. But here he sets forth the judgment of the flesh, against which he strenuously and magnanimously struggled, that it might at length be manifest from the result that he had not prayed in vain. Although, therefore, this psalm does not end with thanksgiving, but with a mournful complaint, as if there remained no place for mercy, yet it is so much the more useful as a means of keeping us in the duty of prayer. The prophet, in heaving these sighs, and discharging them, as it were, into the bosom of God, doubtless ceased not to hope for the salvation of which he could see no signs by the eye of sense. He did not call God, at the opening of the psalm, the God of his salvation, and then bid farewell to all hope of succor from him.

Psalms 88:15

The reason why he says that he was ready to die (518) from his youth, (verse 15,) is uncertain, unless it may be considered a probable conjecture that he was severely tried in a variety of ways, so that his life, as it were, hung by a thread amidst various tremblings and fears. Whence also we gather that God’s wraths and terrors, of which he speaks in the 16th verse, were not of short continuance. He expresses them in the 17th verse as having encompassed him daily. Since nothing is more dreadful than to conceive of God as angry with us, he not improperly compares his distress to a flood. Hence also proceeded his doubting. (519) for a sense of the divine anger must necessarily have agitated his mind with sore disquietude. But it may be asked, How can this wavering agree with faith? It is true, that when the heart is in perplexity and doubt, or rather is tossed hither and thither, faith seems to be swallowed up. But experience teaches us, that faith, while it fluctuates amidst these agitations, continues to rise again from time to time, so as not to be overwhelmed; and if at any time it is at the point of being stifled, it is nevertheless sheltered and cherished, for though the tempests may become never so violent, it shields itself from them by reflecting that God continues faithful, and never disappoints or forsakes his own children.

(518) “C’est, se cachent.” —Fr. marg. “That is, hide themselves.” Walford reads, “The darkness of death is my associate;” on which he has the following note: — “The darkness of death. I take this literally to mean, ‘My acquaintance, or he that knoweth me, is darkness personified:’ — orcus, abaddon.”

(519) The original word for “ready to die” is גוע,goveang It is literally, I labour, orpant for breath, I breathe with pain and difficulty, as a person in great affliction and distress. The verb sometimes signifies to expire; but it does not so strictly express as imply death, from the obstruction of breathing that accompanies it. (See Parkhurst’s Lexicon, גגע, 1, 2.)

Albert Barnes (1798-1870): Psalm 91

Psalm 91
Albert Barnes (1798-1870)
Copyright Public Domain

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Psalms 91:1

He that dwellethEveryone that so dwells. The proposition is universal, and is designed to embrace all who are in this condition. It is true of one; it is true of all. The word rendered “dwelleth” here is a participle from the verb to “sit,” and here means “sitting:” literally, “sitting in the secret place,” etc. The idea is that of calm repose; of resting; of sitting down – as one does in his dwelling.

In the secret placeOn the meaning of this see the notes at Psa 27:5. Compare Psa 31:20; Psa 32:7. Abiding where God abides. The idea is that of having one’s home or residence in the most holy place in the tabernacle or the temple, and of sitting with him in that sacred place.

Of the Most HighOf God, represented as exalted above all; over all the universe.

Shall abideMargin, as in Hebrew, “lodge.” That is his home – his resting place – where he lodges, or passes the night. He takes up his lodging there; he makes it his home.

Under the shadow of the AlmightyUnder his protection, as if under his wings. Compare the notes at Psa 17:8. This is a general statement, and is designed as an introduction to the whole psalm, or as expressing what the psalm is intended to illustrate, “the blessedness” of the man who thus dwells with God; who makes him his friend; who makes the home of God his home.

Psalms 91:2

I will say of the LordI, the psalmist; I will take this to myself; I will endeavor to secure this blessedness; I will thus abide with God. In view of the blessedness of this condition, and with the hope of securing it to myself; I will adopt this resolution as the purpose of my life. It is what I need; it is what my soul desires.

My refuge and my fortress – “I will say of Jehovah, My refuge and my fortress!” I will address him as such; I will regard him as such. On the meaning of these terms, see the notes at Psa 18:2.

My GodI will address him as my God; as the God whom alone I worship; as the only being to whom the name “God” can properly be applied; as being to me all that is implied in the word God.

In him will I trustI will repose that confidence in him which is evinced by making my home with him, and seeking permanently to dwell with him.

Psalms 91:3

Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowlerThe snare or gin set for catching birds; meaning, here, that God would save him from the purposes of wicked people; such purposes as might be compared with the devices employed to catch birds. On the meaning of the figure used here, see the notes at Psa 18:5.

And from the noisome pestilenceThe “fatal” pestilence; the pestilence that spreads death in its march. That is, he can prevent its coming upon you; or, he can save you from its ravages, while others are dying around you. This promise is not to be understood as absolute, or as meaning that no one who fears God will ever fall by the pestilence – for good people “do” die at such times as well as bad people; but the idea is, that God “can” preserve us at such a time and that, as a great law, he will be thus the protector of those who trust him. It is to be remembered that in times of pestilence (as was the case during the prevalence of the Asiatic cholera in 1832 and 1848), very many of the victims are the intemperate, the sensual, the debased, and that a life of this kind is a predisposing cause of death in such visitations of judgment. A large part of those who die are of that number. From the danger arising from this cause, of course the virtuous, the temperate, the pious are exempt; and this is one of the methods by which God saves those who trust in him from the “noisome pestilence.” Religion, therefore, to a considerable extent, constitutes a ground of security at such times; nor is there any reason to doubt that, in many cases also, there may be a special interposition protecting the friends of God from danger, and sparing them for future usefulness. The promise here is substantially that general promise which we have in the Scriptures everywhere, that God is the Protector of his people, and that they may put their trust in him.

Psalms 91:4

He shall cover thee with his feathers … – As the parent bird protects its young. See the notes at Psa 17:8. Compare Deu 32:11. “His truth.” His unfailing promise; the certainty that what he has promised to do he will perform.

Shall be thy shield and bucklerliterally, “Shield and buckler is his truth.” The meaning is, that his pledge or promise would be unto them as the shield of the soldier is to him in battle. Compare Psa 35:2. The word rendered “buckler” is derived from the verb “to surround,” and is given to the defensive armor here referred to, because it “surrounds,” and thus “protects” a person. It may apply to a coat of mail.

Psalms 91:5

Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by nightThat which usually causes alarm at night – a sudden attack; an unexpected incursion of enemies; sudden disease coming on by night; or the pestilence which seems to love night, and to “walk in darkness.” Any one of these things seems to be aggravated by night and darkness; and hence, we most dread them then. We cannot see their approach; we cannot measure their outlines; we know not the extent of the danger, or what may be the calamity.

Nor for the arrow that flieth by dayWhether shot from the bow of God – as pestilence and disease; or from the hand of man in battle. The idea is, that he that trusts in God will be calm. Compare the notes at Psa 56:3.

Psalms 91:6

Nor for the pestilenceThe plague or pestilence was common in Oriental countries.

That walketh in darknessNot that it particularly comes in the night, but that it seems to creep along as if in the night; that is, where one cannot mark its progress, or anticipate when or whom it will strike. The laws of its movements are unknown, and it comes upon people as an enemy that suddenly attacks us in the night.

Nor for the destructionThe word used here – קטב qeṭeb – means properly a cutting off, a destruction, as a destroying storm, Isa 28:2; and then, contagious pestilence, Deu 32:24. It may be applied here to anything that sweeps away people – whether storm, war, pestilence, or famine.

That wasteth at noondayIt lays waste, or produces desolation, at noon; that is, visibly, openly. The meaning is, that whenever, or in whatever form, calamity comes which sweeps away the race – whether at midnight or at noon – whether in the form of pestilence, war, or famine – he who trusts in God need not – will not – be afraid. He will feel either that he will be preserved from its ravages, or that if he is cut off he has nothing to fear. He is a friend of God, and he has a hope of a better life. In death, and in the future world, there is nothing of which he should be afraid. The Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate render this, strangely enough, “Nor of mischance and the demon of noonday.”

Psalms 91:7

A thousand shall fall at thy sideThough a thousand should fall at thy side, or close to thee. This alludes to the manner in which the pestilence often moves among people.

And ten thousand at thy right handCompare Psa 3:6. The word “myriad” would better represent the exact idea in the original, as the Hebrew word is different from that which is translated “a thousand.” It is put here for any large number. No matter how many fall around thee, on the right hand and the left, you will have nothing to fear.

But it shall not come nigh theeYou will be safe. You may feel assured of the divine protection. Your mind may be calm through a sense of such guardianship, and your very calmness will conduce to your safety. This refers, as remarked above, to a “general” law in regard to the judgments of God. It is true that others, beside the dissipated, vicious, and debased, may be the victims; but the great law is that temperance, soberness, virtue, cleanliness, and that regard to comfort and health to which religion and virtue prompt, constitute a marked security – so marked as to illustrate the “general” law referred to in the psalm before us.

Psalms 91:8

OnlyThat is, This is “all” that will occur to you. The only thing which you have to anticipate is, that you will see how God punishes sinners.

With thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wickedYour own eyes shall see it. See the notes at Psa 37:34. You will see the just punishment of the ungodly, the vicious, the profane, the sensual. You will see what is the proper fruit of their conduct; what is the just expression of the views which God takes of their character. This undoubtedly refers to the general principle that there is a moral government on earth; that vice is often punished as such; that the general course of the divine dealings is such as to show that God is favorable to virtue, and is opposed to vice. The system is not complete here, and there are many things which could not be reconciled with this, if the present world were all, and if there were no future state: but the course of events indicates the general character of the divine administration, and what is the tendency of things. The completion – the actual and perfect adjustment – is reserved for a future state. The facts as they occur on earth prove that there is an attribute of justice in God; the fact that his dealings here are not wholly and fully in accordance with what justice demands, proves that there will be a state where full justice will be done, and where the whole system will be adjusted.

Psalms 91:9

Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refugeliterally, “For thou, O Jehovah, (art) my refuge.” The Chaldee Paraphrase regards this as the language of Solomon, who, according to that version, is one of the speakers in the psalm: “Solomon answered and said, ‘Since thou, O Lord, art my refuge,’” etc. Tholuck regards this as the response of the choir. But this is unnecessary. The idea is, that the psalmist “himself” had made Yahweh his refuge, or his defense. The language is an expression of his own feeling – of his own experience – in having made God his refuge, and is designed here to be a ground of exhortation to others to do the same thing. He could say that he had made God his refuge; he could say that God was now his refuge; and he could appeal to this – to his own experience – when he exhorted others to do the same, and gave them assurance of safety in doing it.

Even the Most High thy habitationliterally, “The Most High hast thou made thy habitation;” or, thy home. On the word habitation, see the notes at Psa 90:1. The idea is, that he had, as it were, chosen to abide with God, or to dwell with him – to find his home with him as in a father’s house. The consequence of this, or the security which would follow, he states in the following verses.

Psalms 91:10

There shall no evil befall theeThe Chaldee Paraphrase has, “The Lord of the world answered and said, ‘There shall no evil befall thee,’” etc. The sentiment, however, is that the psalmist could assure such an one, from his own personal experience, that he would be safe. He had himself made Yahweh his refuge, and he could speak with confidence of the safety of doing so. This, of course, is to be understood as a general truth, in accordance with what has been said above.

Neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwellingOn the word rendered “plague” here נגע nega‛ – see Psa 38:12, note; Psa 39:11, note. It is not the same word which is used in Psa 91:6, and translated “pestilence;” and it does not refer to what is technically called the “plague.” It may denote anything that would be expressive of the divine displeasure, or that would be sent as a punishment. The word rendered “dwelling” here means a tent; and the idea is, that no such mark of displeasure would abide with him, or enter his tent as its home. Of course, this also must be understood as a general promise, or as meaning that religion would constitute a general ground of security.

Psalms 91:11

For he shall give his angels charge over theeliterally, “He will give ‘command’ to his angels.” That is, he would instruct them, or appoint them for this purpose. This passage Psa 91:11-12 was applied to the Saviour by the tempter. Mat 4:6. See the notes at that passage. This, however, does not prove that it had an original reference to the Messiah, for even if we should suppose that Satan was a correct and reliable expounder of the Scriptures, all that the passage would prove as used by him would be, that the righteous, or those who were the friends of God, might rely confidently on his protection, and that Jesus, if he was of God, might do this as others might. On the sentiment in the passage, to wit, that God employs his angels to protect his people, see the notes at Psa 34:7; compare the notes at Heb 1:14.

To keep thee in all thy waysTo preserve thee wheresoever thou goest.

Psalms 91:12

They shall bear thee up … – As if they took hold of thee, and held thee up, when about to fall.

Lest thou dash thy foot … – Lest you should stumble and fall. They will protect you so that you may walk safely.

Psalms 91:13

Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adderThou shalt be safe among dangers, as if the rage of the lion were restrained, and he became like a lamb, and as if the poisonous tooth of the serpent were extracted. Compare Mar 16:18. The word used here to denote the “lion” is a poetic term, not employed in prose. The word rendered “adder” is, in the margin, asp. The Hebrew word – פתן pethen – commonly means viper, asp, or adder. See Job 20:14, note; Job 20:16, note; compare Psa 58:4; Isa 11:8. It may be applied to any venomous serpent.

The young lionThe “young” lion is mentioned as particularly fierce and violent. See Psa 17:12.

And the dragon … – Hebrew, תנין tannı̂yn. See Psa 74:13, note; Job 7:12, note; Isa 27:1, note. In Exo 7:9-10, Exo 7:12, the word is rendered serpent (and serpents); in Gen 1:21; and Job 7:12; whale (and whales); in Deu 32:33; Neh 2:13; Psa 74:13; Psa 148:7; Isa 27:1; Isa 51:9; Jer 51:34, as here, dragon (and dragons); in Lam 4:3, sea monsters. The word does not occur elsewhere. It would perhaps properly denote a sea monster; yet it may be applied to a serpent. Thus applied, it would denote a serpent of the largest and most dangerous kind; and the idea is, that he who trusted in God would be safe amidst the most fearful dangers, as if he should walk safely amidst venomous serpents.

Psalms 91:14

Because he hath set his love upon meHas become attached to me; has united himself with me; is my friend. The Hebrew word expresses the strongest attachment, and is equivalent to our expression – “to fall in love.” It refers here to the fact that God is the object of supreme affection on the part of his people; and it also here implies, that this springs from their hearts; that they have seen such beauty in his character, and have such strong desire for him, that their hearts go out in warm affection toward him.

Therefore will I deliver himI will save him from trouble and from danger.

I will set him on highBy acknowledging him as my own, and treating him accordingly.

Because he hath known my nameHe has known me; that is, he understands my true character, and has learned to love me.

Psalms 91:15

He shall call upon meHe shall have the privilege of calling on me in prayer; and he will do it.

And I will answer himI will regard his supplications, and will grant his requests. There could be no greater privilege – no more precious promise – than this.

I will be with him in troubleI will stand by him; I will not forsake him.

I will deliver him, and honor himI will not only rescue him from danger, but I will exalt him to honor. I will recognize him as my friend, and will regard and treat him as such. On earth he shall be treated as my friend; in another world he shall be exalted to honor among the redeemed, and become the associate of holy beings forever.

Psalms 91:16

With long life will I satisfy himThe margin here, is “length of days;” that is, days lengthened out or multiplied. The meaning is, I will give him length of days as he desires, or until he is satisfied with life; implying

(1) that it is natural to desire long life;

(2) that long life is to be regarded as a blessing (compare Pro 3:2, Pro 3:16; Exo 20:12);

(3) that the tendency of religion is to lengthen out life; since virtue, temperance, regular industry, calmness of mind, moderation in all things, freedom from excesses in eating and in drinking – to all of which religion prompts – contribute to health, and to length of days (see Psa 34:12-14, notes; Psa 37:9, note; Psa 55:23, note); and

(4) that a time will come, even under this promised blessing of length of days, when a man will be “satisfied” with living; when he will have no strong desire to live longer; when, under the infirmities of advanced years, and under his lonely feelings from the fact that his early friends have fallen, and under the influence of a bright hope of heaven, he will feel that he has had enough of life here, and that it is better to depart to another world.

And shew him my salvationIn another life, after he shall be “satisfied” with this life. The promise extends beyond the grave: “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” See the notes at 1Ti 4:8. Thus, religion blesses man in this life, and blesses him forever. In possession of this, it is a great thing to him to live long; and then it is a great thing to die – to go to be forever with God.

Matthew Henry (1662-1714): Hosea 2:14-23

Hosea 2:14-23

Commentary By
Matthew Henry (1662-1714)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Hosea 2:14-23

(Please read this commentary through to the end)

The state of Israel ruined by their own sin did not look so black and dismal in the former part of the chapter, but that the state of Israel, restrained by the divine grace, looks as bright and pleasant here in the latter part of the chapter, and the more surprisingly so as the promises follow thus close upon the threatenings; nay, which is very strange, they are by a note of connexion joined to, and inferred from, that declaration of their sinfulness upon which the threatenings of their ruin are grounded: She went after her lovers, and forgot me, saith the Lord; therefore I will allure her. Fitly therefore is that therefore which is the note of connexion immediately followed with a note of admiration: Behold I will allure her! When it was said, She forgot me, one would think it should have followed, “Therefore I will abandon her, I will forget her, I will never look after her more.” No, Therefore I will allure her. Note, God’s thoughts and ways of mercy are infinitely above ours; his reasons are all fetched from within himself, and not from any thing in us; nay, his goodness takes occasion from man’s badness to appear so much the more illustrious, Isaiah 57:17, Isaiah 57:18. Therefore, because she will not be restrained by the denunciations of wrath, God will try whether she will be wrought upon by the offers of mercy. Some think it may be translated, Afterwards, or nevertheless, I will allure her. It comes all to one; the design is plainly to magnify free grace to those on whom God will have mercy purely for mercy’s sake. Now that which is here promised to Israel is,

I. That though now they were disconsolate, and ready to despair, they should again be revived with comforts and hopes, Hosea 2:14, Hosea 2:15. This is expressed here with an allusion to God’s dealings with that people when he brought them out of Egypt, through the wilderness to Canaan, as their forlorn and deplorable condition in their captivity was compared to their state in Egypt in the day that they were born, Hosea 2:3. They shall be new-formed by such miracles of love and mercy as they were first-formed by, and such a transport of joy shall they be in as they were in then. It is hard to say when this had its accomplishment in the kingdom of the ten tribes; but it principally aims, no doubt, at the bringing in both of Jews and Gentiles into the church by the gospel of Christ; and it is applicable, nay, we have reason to think it was designed that it should be applied, to the conversion of particular souls to God. Now observe,

1. The gracious methods God will take with them. (1.) He will bring them into the wilderness, as he did at first when he brought them out of Egypt, where he instructed them, and took them into covenant with himself. The land of their captivity shall be to them now, as that wilderness was then, the furnace of affliction, in which God will choose them. See Ezekiel 20:35, Ezekiel 20:36, I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you. God had said that he would make them as a wilderness (Hosea 2:3), which was a threatening; now, when it is here made part of a promise that he would bring them into the wilderness, the meaning may be that he would by his grace bring their minds to their condition: “They shall have humble hearts under humbling providences; being poor, they shall be poor in spirit, shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity, and then they are prepared to have comfort spoken to them.” When God delivered Israel out of Egypt he led them into the wilderness, to humble them and prove them, that he might do them good (Deuteronomy 8:2, Deuteronomy 8:3, Deuteronomy 8:15, Deuteronomy 8:16), and so he will do again. Note, Those whom God has mercy in store for he first brings into a wilderness – into solitude and retirement, that they may the more freely converse with him out of the noise of this world, – into distress of mind, through sense of guilt and dread of wrath, which brings a soul to be quite at a loss in itself and bewildered, and by those convictions he prepares for consolations, – and sometimes into outward distress and trouble, thereby to open the ear to discipline. (2.) He will then allure them and speak comfortably to them, will persuade them and speak to their hearts, that is, he will by his word and Spirit incline their hearts to return to him, and encourage them to do so. He will allure them with the promises of his favour, as before he had terrified them with the threatenings of his wrath, will speak friendly to them, both by his prophets and by his providences, as before he had spoken roughly, Isaiah 40:1, Isaiah 40:2. By the hand of my servants the prophets I will speak comfort to her heart; so the Chaldee. This refers to the gospel of Christ, and the offers of divine grace in the gospel, by which we are allured to forsake our sins and to turn to God, and which speaks to the heart of a convinced sinner that which is every way suited to his case, speaks abundant consolation to those that sorrow for sin and lament after the Lord. And when by the Spirit it is indeed spoken to the heart effectually, and so as to reach the conscience (which it is God’s prerogative to do), O what a blessed change is wrought by it! Note, The best way of reducing wandering souls to God is by fair means. By the promise of rest in Christ we are invited to take his yoke upon us; and the work of conversion may be forwarded by comforts as well as by convictions. (3.) He will give her her vineyards thence. From that time and from that place where he has afflicted her, and brought her to see her folly and to humble herself, thenceforward he will do her good; not only speak comfortably to her, but do well for her, and undo what he had done against her. He had destroyed her vines (Hosea 2:12), but now he will give her whole vineyards, as if for every vine destroyed she should have a vineyard restored, and so be repaid with interest; she shall not only have corn for necessity, but vineyards for delight. These denote the privileges and comforts of the gospel, which are prepared for those that come up out of the wilderness leaning upon Christ as their beloved, Song of Solomon 8:5. Note, God has vineyards of consolation ready to bestow on those who repent and return to him; and he can give vineyards out of a wilderness, which are of all others the most welcome, as rest to the weary. (4.) He will give her the valley of Achor for a door of hope. The valley of Achor was that in which Achan was stoned; it signifies the valley of trouble, because he troubled Israel, and there God troubled him. This was the beginning of the wars of Canaan; and their putting away the accursed thing in that place gave them ground to hope that God would continue his presence with them and complete their victories. So when God returns to his people in mercy, and they to him in duty, it will be to them as happy an omen as any thing. If they put away the accursed thing from among them, if by mortifying sin they stone the Achan that has troubled their camp, their subduing that enemy within themselves is an earnest to them of victory over all the kings of Canaan. Or, if the allusion be to the name, it intimates that trouble for sin, if it be sincere, opens a door of hope; for that sin which truly troubles us shall not ruin us. The valley of Achor was a very fruitful pleasant valley, some think the same with the valley of Engedi, famous for vineyards, Song of Solomon 1:14. This God gave to Israel as a pattern and pledge of the whole land of Canaan; so “God will by his gospel give to all believers such gifts, graces, and comforts in this life, as shall be a taste of those more perfect good things of the kingdom of heaven, and shall give them as assured hope of a full possession of them in due time.” So the learned Dr. Pocock expounds it; and, to the same purport, this whole context.

2. The great rejoicing with which they shall receive God’s gracious returns towards them: She shall sing there as in the days of her youth. This plainly refers to that triumphant and prophetic song which Moses and the children of Israel sang at the Red Sea, Exodus 15:1. When they are delivered out of captivity they shall repeat that song, and to them it shall be a new song, because sung upon a new occasion, not inferior to the former. God had said (Hosea 2:11) that he would cause all her mirth to cease, but now he would cause it to revive: She shall sing as in the day that she came out of Egypt. Note, When God repeats former mercies we must repeat former praises; we find the song of Moses sung in the New Testament, Revelation 15:3. This promise of Israel’s singing has its accomplishment in the gospel of Christ, which furnishes us with abundant matter for joy and praise, and wherever it is received in its power enlarges the heart in joy and praise; and this is that land flowing with milk and honey which the valley of Achor opens a door of hope to. We rejoice in tribulation.

II. That, though they had been much addicted to the worship of Baal, they should now be perfectly weaned from it, should relinquish and abandon all appearances of idolatry and approaches towards it, and cleave to God only, and worship him as he appoints, Hosea _2:16, Hosea 2:17. Note, The surest pledge and token of God’s favour to any people is his effectual parting between them and their beloved sins. The worship of Baal was the sin that did most easily beset the people of Israel; it was their own iniquity, the sin that had dominion over them; but now that idolatry shall be quite abolished, and there shall not be the least remains of it among them. 1. The idols of Baal shall not be mentioned, not any of the Baals that in the days of Baalim had made so great a noise with, O Baal! hear us; O Baal! hear us. The very names of Baalim shall be taken out of their mouths; they shall be so disused that they shall be quite forgotten, as if their names had never been known in Israel; they shall be so detested that people will not bear to mention them themselves, nor to hear others mention them, so that posterity shall scarcely know that ever there were such things. They shall be so ashamed of their former love to Baal that they shall do all they can to blot out the remembrance of it. They shall tie themselves up to the strictest literal meaning of that law against idolatry (Exodus 23:13), Make no mention of the names of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth, as David, Psa_16:4. Thus the apostle expresses the abhorrence we ought to have of all fleshly lusts: Let them not be once named among you, Ephesians 5:3. But how can such a change of the Ethiopian’s skin be wrought? It is answered, The power of God can do it, and will. I will take away the names of Baalim; as Zechariah 13:2, I will cut off the names of the idols. Note, God’s grace in the heart will change the language by making that iniquity to be loathed which was beloved. Zephaniah 3:9, I will turn to the people a pure language. One of the rabbin says, This promise relates to the Gentiles, by the gospel of Christ, from the idolatries which they had been wedded to, 1Thessalonians 1:9. 2. The very word Baal shall be laid aside, even in its innocent signification. God says, Thou shalt call me Ishi, and call me no more Baali; both signify my husband, and both had been made use of concerning God. Isaiah 54:5, Thy Maker is thy husband, thy Baal (so the word is), thy owner, patron, and protector. It is probable that many good people had, accordingly, made use of the word Baali in worshipping the God of Israel; when their wicked neighbours bowed the knee to Baal they gloried in this, that God was their Baal. “But,” says God, “you shall call me so no more, because I will have the very names of Baalim taken away.” Note, That which is very innocent in itself should, when it has been abused to idolatry, be abolished, and the very use of it taken away, that nothing may be done to keep idols in remembrance, much less to keep them in reputation. When calling God Ishi will do as well, and signify as much, as Baali, let that word be chosen rather, lest, by calling him Baali, others should be put in mind of their quondam Baals. Some think that there is another reason intimated why God would be called Ishi and not Baali; they both signify my husband, but Ishi is a compellation of love, and sweetness, and familiarity, Baali of reverence and subjection. Ishi is vir meusmy man; Baali is dominus meusmy lord. In gospel-times God has so revealed himself to us as to encourage us to come boldly to the throne of his grace, and to use a holy humble freedom there; we ought to call God our Master, for so he is, but we are more taught to call him our Father. Ishi is a man the Lord (Genesis 4:1), and intimates that in gospel-times the church’s husband shall be the man Christ Jesus, made like unto his brethren, and therefore they shall call him Ishi, not Baali.

III. That though they had been in continual troubles, as if the whole creation had been at war with them, now they shall enjoy perfect peace and tranquillity, as if they were in a league of friendship with the whole creation (Hosea 2:18): In that day, when they have forsaken their idols, and put themselves under the divine protection, I will make a covenant for them. 1. They shall be protected from evil; nothing shall hurt them, nor do them any mischief. Tranquillus Deus tranquillat amniaWhen God is at peace with us he makes every creature to be so too. The inferior creatures shall do them no harm, as they had done when the beasts of the field ate up their vineyards (Hosea 2:12) and when noisome beasts were one of God’s sore judgments, Ezekiel 14:15. The fowl and the creeping things are taken into this covenant; for they also, when God makes use of them as the instruments of his justice, may be come very hurtful, but they shall be no more so; nay, by virtue of this covenant, they shall be made serviceable to them and brought into their interests. Note, God has the command of the inferior creatures, and brings them into what covenant he pleases; he can make the beasts of the field to honour him (so he has promised, Isaiah 43:20) and to contribute to his people’s comfort. And, if the inferior creatures are thus laid under an engagement to serve us, it is our part of the covenant not to abuse them, but to serve God with them. Some think that this had its accomplishment in the miraculous power Christ gave his disciples to take up serpents, Mark 16:17, Mark 16:18. It agrees with the promises made particularly to Israel, in their return out of captivity (Ezekiel 34:25, I will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land), and the more general ones to all the saints. Job 5:22, Job 5:23, The beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee; and Psalm 91:13, Thou shalt tread upon the lion and the adder. But this is not all; men are more in danger from one another than from the brute beast, and therefore it is further promised that God will make wars to cease, will disarm the enemy: I will break the bow, and sword, and battle. He can do it when he pleases (Psalm 44:9), and will do it for those whose ways please him, for he makes even their enemies to be at peace with them, Proverbs 16:7. This agrees with the promise that in gospel-times swords shall be beaten into plough-shares, Isaiah 2:4. 2. They shall be quiet from the fear of evil. God will not only keep them safe, but make them to lie down safely, as those that know themselves to be under the protection of Heaven, and therefore are not afraid of the powers of hell.

IV. That, though God had given them a bill of divorce for their whoredoms, yet, upon their repentance, he would again take them into covenant with himself, into a marriage-covenant, Hosea 2:19, Hosea 2:20. God’s making a covenant for them with the inferior creatures was a great favour; but it was nothing to this, that he took them into covenant with himself and engaged himself to do them good. Observe,

1. The nature of this covenant; it is a marriage-covenant, founded in choice and love, and founding the nearest relation: I will betroth thee unto me; and again, and a third time, I will betroth thee. Note, All that are sincerely devoted to God are betrothed to him; God gives them the most sacred and inviolable security imaginable that he will love them, protect them, and provide for them, that he will do the part of a husband to them, and that he will incline their hearts to join themselves to him and will graciously accept of them in so doing. Believing souls are espoused to Christ, 2Corinthians 11:2. The gospel-church is the bride, the Lamb’s wife; and they would never come into that relation to him if he did not by the power of his grace betroth them to himself. The separation begins on our side; we alienate ourselves from God. The coalition begins on his side; he betroths us to himself.

2. The duration of this covenant: “I will betroth thee for ever. The covenant itself shall be inviolable; God will not break it on his part, and you shall not on yours; and the blessings of it shall be everlasting.” One of the Jewish rabbin says, This is a promise that she shall attain to the life of the world to come, which is absolute eternity or perpetuity.

3. The manner in which this covenant shall be made. (1.) In righteousness and judgment, that is, God will deal sincerely and uprightly in covenant with them; they have broken covenant, and God is righteous. “But,” says God, “I will renew the covenant in righteousness.” The matter shall be so ordered that God may receive even these backsliding children into his family again, without any reflection upon his justice, nay, his justice being satisfied by the Mediator of this covenant very much to the honour of it. But what reason can there be why God should take a people into covenant with him that had so often dealt treacherously? Will it not reflect upon his wisdom? “No,” says God; “I will do it in judgment, not rashly, but upon due consideration; let me alone to give a reason for it and to justify my own conduct.” (2.) In lovingkindness and in mercies. God will deal tenderly and graciously in covenanting with them; and will be not only as good as his word, but better; and, as he will be just in keeping covenant with them, so he will be merciful in keeping them in the covenant. They are subject to many infirmities, and, if he be extreme to mark what they do amiss, they will soon lose the benefit of the covenant. He therefore promises that it shall be a covenant of grace, made in a compassionate consideration of their infirmities, so that every transgression in the covenant shall not throw them out of covenant; he will gather with everlasting lovingkindness. (3.) In faithfulness. Every article of the covenant shall be punctually performed. Faithful is he that has called them, who also will do it; he cannot deny himself.

4. The means by which they shall be kept tight and faithful to the covenant on their part: Thou shalt know the Lord. This is not only a promise that God will reveal himself to them more fully and clearly than ever, but that he will give them a heart to know him; they shall know more of him, and shall know him in another manner than ever yet. The ground of their apostasy was their not knowing God to be their benefactor (Hosea 2:8); therefore, to prevent the like, they shall all be taught of God to know him. Note, God keeps up his interest in men’s souls by giving them a good understanding and a right knowledge of things, Hebrews 8:11.

V. That, though the heavens had been to them as brass, and the earth as iron, now the heavens shall yield their dews, and by that means the earth its fruits, Hosea 2:21, Hosea 2:22. God having betrothed the gospel-church and in it all believers to himself, how shall he not with himself and with his Son freely give them all things, all things pertaining both to life and godliness, all things they need or can desire? All is theirs, for they are Christ’s, betrothed to him; and with the righteousness of the kingdom of God, which they seek first, all other things shall be added unto them. And yet this promise of corn and wine is to be taken also in a spiritual sense (so the learned Dr. Pocock thinks): it is an effusion of those blessings and graces which relate to the soul that is here promised under the metaphor of temporal blessings, the dew of heaven, as well as the fatness of the earth, and that put first, as in the blessing of Jacob, Genesis 27:28. God had threatened (Hosea 2:9) that he would take away the corn and the wine; but now he promises to restore them, and that in the common course and order of nature. While they lay under the judgment of famine they called to the earth for corn and wine for the support of themselves and their families. Very gladly would the earth have supplied them, but she cannot give unless she receive, cannot produce corn and wine unless she be enriched with the river of God (Psalm 65:9); and therefore she calls to the heavens for rain, the former and latter rain in their season, grapes for it, and by her melancholy aspect when rain is denied pleads for it. “But,” say the heavens, “we have no rain to give unless he who has the key of the clouds unlock them, and open these bottles; so that, if the Lord do not help you, we cannot.” But, when God takes them into covenant with himself, then the wheel of nature shall be set a-going again in favour of them, and the streams of mercy shall flow in the usual channel: Then I will hear, saith the Lord; I will receive your prayers (so the Chaldee interprets the first hearing); God will graciously take notice of their addresses to him. And then I will hear the heavens; I will answer them (so it may be read); and then they shall hear and answer the earth, and pour down seasonable rain upon it; and then the earth shall hear the corn and vines, and supply them with moisture, and they shall hear Jezreel, and be nourishment and refreshment for those that inhabit Jezreel. See here the coherence of second causes with one another, as links in a chain, and the necessary dependence they all have upon God, the first Cause. Note, We must expect all our comforts from God in the usual method and by the appointed means; and, when we are at any time disappointed in them, we must look up to God, above the hills and the mountains, Psalm 121:1, Psalm 121:2. See how ready the creatures are to serve the people of God, how desirous of the honour: the corn cries to the earth, the earth to the heavens, the heavens to God, and all that they may supply them. And see how ready God is to give relief: I will hear, saith the Lord, yea, I will hear. And, if God will hear the cry of the heavens for his people, much more will he hear the intercession of his Son for them, who is made higher than the heavens. See what a peculiar delight those that are in covenant with God may take in their creature-comforts, as seeing them all come to them from the hand of God; they can trace up all the streams to the fountain, and taste covenant-love in common mercies, which makes them doubly sweet.

VI. That whereas they were now dispersed, not only, as Simeon and Levi, divided in Jacob and scattered in Israel, but divided and scattered all the world over, God will turn this curse, as he did that, into a blessing: “I will not only water the earth for her, but will sow her unto me in the earth; her dispersion shall be not like that of the chaff in the floor, which the wind drives away, but like that of the seed in the field, in order to its greater increase; wherever they are scattered they shall take root downward and bear fruit upward. The good seed are the children of the kingdom. I will sow her unto me.” This alludes to the name of Jezreel, which signifies sown of God, or for God; as she was scattered of him (which is one signification of the words) so she shall be sown of him; and to what he sows he will give the increase. When in all parts of the world Christianity got footing, and every where there were professors of it, then this promise was fulfilled, I will sow her unto me in the earth. Note, The greatest blessing of this earth is that God has a church in it, and from that arises all the tribute of glory which he has out of it; it is what he has sown to himself, and what he will therefore secure to himself.

VII. That, whereas they had been Lo-amminot a people, and Lo-ruhamahnot finding mercy with God, now they shall be restored to his favour and taken again into covenant with him (Hosea 2:23): They had not obtained mercy, but seemed to be abandoned; they were not my people, not distinguished, not dealt with, as my people, but left to lie in common with the nations. This was the case with the rejected Jews; and the same, or more deplorable, was that of the Gentile world (to whom the apostle applies this, Romans 9:24, Romans 9:25), that had no hope, and was without God in the world; but when great multitudes both of Jews and Gentiles were, upon their believing in Christ, incorporated into a Christian church, then, 1. God had mercy on those who had not obtained mercy. Those found favour with God, and became the children of his love, who had been long out of favour and the children of his wrath, and, if infinite mercy had not interposed, would have been for ever so. Note, God’s mercy must not be despaired of any where on this side hell. 2. He took those into a covenant-relation to himself who had been strangers and foreigners. He says to them, “Thou art my people, whom I will own and bless, protect and provide for;” and they shall say, “Thou art my God, whom I will serve and worship, and to whose honour I will be entirely and for ever devoted.” Note, (1.) The sum total of the happiness of believers is the mutual relation that is between them and God, that he is theirs and they are his; this is the crown of all the promises. (2.) This relation is founded in free grace. We have not chosen him, but he has chosen us. He first says, They are my people, and makes them willing to be so in the day of his power, and then they avouch him to be theirs. (3.) As we need desire no more to make us happy than to be the people of God, so we need desire no more to make us easy and cheerful than to have him to assure us that we are so, to say unto us, by his Spirit witnessing with ours, Thou art my people. (4.) Those that have accepted the Lord for their God must avouch him to be so, must go to him in prayer and tell him so, Thou art my God, and must be ready to make profession before men. (5.) It adds to the comfort of our covenant with God that in it there is a communion of saints, who, though they are many, yet here are one. It is not, I will say to them, You are my people, but, Thou art; for he looks upon them as all one in Christ, and, as such in him, he speaks to them and covenants with them; and they also do not say, Thou art our God, for they look upon themselves as one body, and desire with one mind and one mouth to glorify him, and therefore say, Thou art my God. Or it intimates that such a covenant as God made of old with his people Israel, in general, now under the gospel he makes with particular believers, and says to each of them, even the meanest, with as much pleasure as he did of old to the thousands of Israel, Thou art my people, and invites and encourages each of them to say, Thou art my God, and to triumph therein, as Moses and all Israel did. Exodus 15:2, He is my God, and my father’s God.

Matthew Henry (1662-1714): Psalm 13

Psalm 13

Commentary By
Matthew Henry (1662-1714)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Psalms 13:1-6


David, in affliction, is here pouring out his soul before God; his address is short, but the method is very observable, and of use for direction and encouragement.

I. His troubles extort complaints (Psalm 13:1, Psalm 13:2); and the afflicted have liberty to pour out their complaint before the Lord, Ps. 102 title. It is some ease to a troubled spirit to give vent to its griefs, especially to give vent to them at the throne of grace, where we are sure to find one who is afflicted in the afflictions of his people and is troubled with the feeling of their infirmities; thither we have boldness of access by faith, and there we have parrēsiafreedom of speech. Observe here,

1. What David complains of. (1.) God’s unkindness; so he construed it, and it was his infirmity. He thought God had forgotten him, had forgotten his promises to him, his covenant with him, his former lovingkindness which he had shown him and which he took to be an earnest of further mercy, had forgotten that there was such a man in the world, who needed and expected relief and succour from him. Thus Zion said, My God has forgotten me (Isaiah 49:14), Israel said, My way is hidden from the Lord, Isaiah 40:27. Not that any good man can doubt the omniscience, goodness, and faithfulness of God; but it is a peevish expression of prevailing fear, which yet, when it arises from a high esteem and earnest desire of God’s favour, though it be indecent and culpable, shall be passed by and pardoned, for the second thought will retract it and repent of it. God hid his face from him, so that he wanted that inward comfort in God which he used to have, and herein was a type of Christ upon the cross, crying out, My God, why hast thou forsaken me? God sometimes hides his face from his own children, and leaves them in the dark concerning their interest in him; and this they lay to heart more than any outward trouble whatsoever. (2.) His own uneasiness. [1.] He was racked with care, which filled his head: I take counsel in my soul; “I am at a loss, and am inops consiliiwithout a friend to advise with that I can put any confidence in, and therefore am myself continually projecting what to do to help myself; but none of my projects are likely to take effect, so that I am at my wits’ end, and in a continual agitation.” Anxious cares are heavy burdens with which good people often load themselves more than they need. [2.] He was overwhelmed with sorrow, which filled his heart: I have sorrow in my heart daily. He had a constant disposition to sorrow and it preyed upon his spirits, not only in the night, when he was silent and solitary, but by day too, when lighter griefs are diverted and dissipated by conversation and business; nay, every day brought with it fresh occasions of grief; the clouds returned after the rain. The bread of sorrow is sometimes the saint’s daily bread. Our Master himself was a man of sorrows. (3.) His enemies’ insolence, which added to his grief. Saul his great enemy, and others under him, were exalted over him, triumphed in his distress, pleased themselves with his grief, and promised themselves a complete victory over him. This he complained of as reflecting dishonour upon God, and his power and promise.

2. How he expostulates with God hereupon: “How long shall it be thus?” And, “Shall it be thus for ever?” Long afflictions try our patience and often tire it. It is a common temptation, when trouble lasts long, to think it will last always; despondency then turns into despair, and those that have long been without joy begin, at last, to be without hope. “Lord, tell me how long thou wilt hide thy face, and assure me that it shall not be for ever, but that thou wilt return at length in mercy to me, and then I shall the more easily bear my present troubles.”

II. His complaints stir up his prayers, Psalm 13:3, Psalm 13:4. We should never allow ourselves to make any complaints but what are fit to be offered up to God and what drive us to our knees. Observe here,

1. What his petitions are: Consider my case, hear my complaints, and enlighten my eyes, that is, (1.) “Strengthen my faith;” for faith is the eye of the soul, with which it sees above, and sees through, the things of sense. “Lord, enable me to look beyond my present troubles and to foresee a happy issue of them.” (2.) “Guide my way; enable me to look about me, that I may avoid the snares which are laid for me.” (3.) “Refresh my soul with the joy of thy salvation.” That which revives the drooping spirits is said to enlighten the eyes, 1Samuel 14:27; Ezra 9:8. “Lord, scatter the cloud of melancholy which darkens my eyes, and let my countenance be made pleasant.”

2. What his pleas are. He mentions his relation to God and interest in him (O Lord my God!) and insists upon the greatness of the peril, which called for speedy relief and succour. If his eyes were not enlightened quickly, (1.) He concludes that he must perish: “I shall sleep the sleep of death; I cannot live under the weight of all this care and grief.” Nothing is more killing to a soul then the want of God’s favour, nothing more reviving than the return of it. (2.) That then his enemies would triumph: “Lest my enemy say, So would I have it; lest Saul, lest Satan, be gratified in my fall.” It would gratify the pride of his enemy: He will say, “I have prevailed, I have gotten the day, and been too hard for him and his God.” It would gratify the malice of his enemies: They will rejoice when I am moved. And will it be for God’s honour to suffer them thus to trample upon all that is sacred both in heaven and earth?

III. His prayers are soon turned into praises (Psalm 13:5, Psalm 13:6): But my heart shall rejoice and I will sing to the Lord. What a surprising change is here in a few lines! In the beginning of the psalm we have him drooping, trembling, and ready to sink into melancholy and despair; but, in the close of it, rejoicing in God, and elevated and enlarged in his praises. See the power of faith, the power of prayer, and how good it is to draw near to God. If we bring our cares and griefs to the throne of grace, and leave them there, we may go away like Hannah, and our countenance will be no more sad, 1Samuel 1:18. And here observe the method of his comfort. 1. God’s mercy is the support of his faith. “My case is bad enough, and I am ready to think it deplorable, till I consider the infinite goodness of God; but, finding I have that to trust to, I am comforted, though I have no merit of my own. In former distresses I have trusted in the mercy of God, and I never found that it failed me; his mercy has in due time relieved me and my confidence in it has in the mean time supported me. Even in the depth of this distress, when God hid his face from me, when without were fightings and within were fears, yet I trusted in the mercy of God and that was as an anchor in a storm, by the help of which, though I was tossed, I was not overset.” And still I do trust in thy mercy; so some read it. “I refer myself to that, with an assurance that it will do well for me at last.” This he pleads with God, knowing what pleasure he takes in those that hope in his mercy, Psalm 147:11. 2. His faith in God’s mercy filled his heart with joy in his salvation; for joy and peace come by believing, Romans 15:13. Believing, you rejoice, 1Peter 1:8. Having put his trust in the mercy of God, he is fully assured of salvation, and that his heart, which was now daily grieving, should rejoice in that salvation. Though weeping endure long, joy will return. 3. His joy in God’s salvation would fill his mouth with songs of praise (Psalm 13:6): “I will sing unto the Lord, sing in remembrance of what he has done formerly; though I should never recover the peace I have had, I will die blessing God that ever I had it. He has dealt bountifully with me formerly, and he shall have the glory of that, however he is pleased to deal with me now. I will sing in hope of what he will do for me at last, being confident that all will end well, will end everlastingly well.” But he speaks of it as a thing past (He has dealt bountifully with me), because by faith he had received the earnest of the salvation and he was as confident of it as if it had been done already.

In singing this psalm and praying it over, if we have not the same complaints to make that David had, we must thank God that we have not, dread and deprecate his withdrawings, sympathize with those that are troubled in mind, and encourage ourselves in our most holy faith and joy.

Matthew Henry (1662-1714): Psalm 138

Psalm 138

Commentary By
Matthew Henry (1662-1714)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Psalms 138:1-5


I. How he would praise God, compare Psalm 111:1. 1. He will praise him with sincerity and zeal – “With my heart, with my whole heart, with that which is within me and with all that is within me, with uprightness of intention and fervency of affection, inward impressions agreeing with outward expressions.” 2. With freedom and boldness: Before the gods will I sing praise unto thee, before the princes, and judges, and great men, either those of other nations that visited him or those of his own nation that attended on him, even in their presence. He will not only praise God with his heart, which we may do by pious ejaculations in any company, but will sing praise if there be occasion. Note, Praising God is work which the greatest of men need not be ashamed of; it is the work of angels, the work of heaven. Before the angels (so some understand it), that is, in religious assemblies, where there is a special presence of angels, 1Cor 11:10. 3. In the way that God had appointed: I will worship towards thy holy temple. The priests alone went into the temple; the people, at the nearest, did but worship towards it, and that they might do at a distance. Christ is our temple, and towards him we must look with an eye of faith, as Mediator between us and God, in all our praises of him. Heaven is God’s holy temple, and thitherward we must lift up our eyes in all our addresses to God. Our Father in heaven.

II. What he would praise God for. 1. For the fountain of his comforts – for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth, for thy goodness and for thy promise, mercy hidden in thee and mercy revealed by thee, that God is a gracious God in himself and has engaged to be so to all those that trust in him. For thou hast magnified thy word (thy promise, which is truth) above all thy name. God has made himself known to us in many ways in creation and providence, but most clearly by his word. The judgments of his mouth are magnified even above those of his hand, and greater things are done by them. The wonders of grace exceed the wonders of nature; and what is discovered of God by revelation is much greater than what is discovered by reason. In what God had done for David his faithfulness to his work appeared more illustriously, and redounded more to his glory, than any other of his attributes. Some good interpreters understand it of Christ, the essential Word, and of his gospel, which are magnified above all the discoveries God had before made of himself to the fathers. He that magnified the law, and made that honourable, magnifies the gospel much more. 2. For the streams flowing from that fountain, in which he himself had tasted that the Lord is gracious, Psalm138:3. He had been in affliction, and he remembers, with thankfulness, (1.) The sweet communion he then had with God. He cried, he prayed, and prayed earnestly, and God answered him, gave him to understand that his prayer was accepted and should have a gracious return in due time. The intercourse between God and his saints is carried on by his promises and their prayers. (2.) The sweet communications he then had from God: Thou strengthenedst me with strength in my soul. This was the answer to his prayer, for God gives more than good words, Psalm 20:6. Observe, [1.] It was a speedy answer: In the day when I cried. Note, Those that trade with heaven by prayer grow rich by quick returns. While we are yet speaking God hears, Isaiah 65:24. [2.] It was a spiritual answer. God gave him strength in his soul, and that is a real and valuable answer to the prayer of faith in the day of affliction. If God give us strength in our souls to bear the burdens, resist the temptations, and do the duties of an afflicted state, if he strengthen us to keep hold of himself by faith, to maintain the peace of our own minds and to wait with patience for the issue, we must own that he has answered us, and we are bound to be thankful.

III. What influence he hoped that his praising God would have upon others, Psalm 138:4, Psalm 138:5. David was himself a king, and therefore he hoped that kings would be wrought upon by his experiences, and his example, to embrace religion; and, if kings became religious, their kingdoms would be every way better. Now, 1. This may have reference to the kings that were neighbours to David, as Hiram and others. “They shall all praise thee.” When they visited David, and, after his death, when they sought the presence of Solomon (as all the kings of the earth are expressly said to have done, 2Ch_9:23), they readily joined in the worship of the God of Israel. 2. It may look further, to the calling of the Gentiles and the discipling of all nations by the gospel of Christ, of whom it is said that all kings shall fall down before him, Psalm 72:11. Now it is here foretold, (1.) That the kings of the earth shall hear the words of God. All that came near David should hear them from him, Psalm 119:46. In the latter days the preachers of the gospel should be sent into all the world. (2.) That then they shall praise God, as all those have reason to do that hear his word, and receive it in the light and love of it, Acts 13:48. (3.) That they shall sing in the ways of the Lord, in the ways of his providence and grace towards them; they shall rejoice in God, and give glory to him, however he is pleased to deal with them in the ways of their duty and obedience to him. Note, Those that walk in the ways of the Lord have reason to sing in those ways, to go on in them with a great deal of cheerfulness, for they are ways of pleasantness, and it becomes us to be pleasant in them; and, if we are so, great is the glory of the Lord. It is very much for the honour of God that kings should walk in his ways, and that all those who walk in them should sing in them, and so proclaim to all the world that he is a good Master and his work its own wages.

Psalms 138:6-8


David here comforts himself with three things: –

I. The favour God bears to his humble people (Psalm 138:6): Though the Lord be high, and neither needs any of his creatures nor can be benefited by them, yet has he respect unto the lowly, smiles upon them as well pleased with them, overlooks heaven and earth to cast a gracious look upon them (Isaiah 57:15; Isaiah 66:1), and, sooner or later, he will put honour upon them, while he knows the proud afar off, knows them, but disowns them and rejects them, how proudly soever they pretend to his favour. Dr. Hammond makes this to be the sum of that gospel which the kings of the earth shall hear and welcome – that penitent sinners shall be accepted of God, but the impenitent cast out; witness the instance of the Pharisee and the publican, Luke 18.

II. The care God takes of his afflicted oppressed people, Psalm 138:7. David, though a great and good man, expects to walk in the midst of trouble, but encourages himself with hope, 1. That God would comfort him: “When my spirit is ready to sink and fail, thou shalt revive me, and make me easy and cheerful under my troubles.” Divine consolations have enough in them to revive us even when we walk in the midst of troubles and are ready to die away for fear. 2. That he would protect him, and plead his cause: “Thou shalt stretch forth thy hand, though not against my enemies to destroy them, yet against the wrath of my enemies, to restrain that and set bounds to it.” 3. That he would in due time work deliverance for him: Thy right hand shall save me. As he has one hand to stretch out against his enemies, so he has another to save his own people. Christ is the right hand of the Lord, that shall save all those who serve him.

III. The assurance we have that whatever good work God has begun in and for his people he will perform it (Psalm 138:8): The Lord will perfect that which concerns me, 1. That which is most needful for me; and he knows best what is so. We are careful and cumbered about many things that do not concern us, but he knows what are the things that really are of consequence to us (Matt 6:32) and he will order them for the best. 2. That which we are most concerned about. Every good man is most concerned about his duty to God and his happiness in God, that the former may be faithfully done and the latter effectually secured; and if indeed these are the things that our hearts are most upon, and concerning which we are most solicitous, there is a good work begun in us, and he that has begun it will perfect it, we may be confident he will, Phil 1:6. Observe, (1.) What ground the psalmist builds this confidence upon: Thy mercy, O Lord! endures for ever. This he had made very much the matter of his praise (Psalm 13:6), and therefore he could here with the more assurance make it the matter of his hope. For, if we give God the glory of his mercy, we may take to ourselves the comfort of it. Our hopes that we shall persevere must be founded, not upon our own strength, for that will fail us, but upon the mercy of God, for that will not fail. It is well pleaded, “Lord, thy mercy endures for ever; let me be for ever a monument of it.” (2.) What use he makes of this confidence; it does not supersede, but quicken prayer; he turns his expectation into a petition: “Forsake not, do not let go, the work of thy own hands. Lord, I am the work of thy own hands, my soul is so, do not forsake me; my concerns are so, do not lay by thy care of them.” Whatever good there is in us it is the work of God’s own hands; he works in us both to will and to do; it will fail if he forsake it; but his glory, as Jehovah, a perfecting God, is so much concerned in the progress of it to the end that we may in faith pray, “Lord, do not forsake it.” Whom he loves he loves to the end; and, as for God, his work is perfect.

Matthew Henry (1662-1714): Psalm 139

Psalm 139

Commentary By
Matthew Henry (1662-1714)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Psalms 139:1-6


David here lays down this great doctrine, That the God with whom we have to do has a perfect knowledge of us, and that all the motions and actions both of our inward and of our outward man are naked and open before him.

I. He lays down this doctrine in the way of an address to God; he says it to him, acknowledging it to him, and giving him the glory of it. Divine truths look fully as well when they are prayed over as when they are preached over, and much better than when they are disputed over. When we speak of God to him himself we shall find ourselves concerned to speak with the utmost degree both of sincerity and reverence, which will be likely to make the impressions the deeper.

II. He lays it down in a way of application to himself, not, “Thou hast known all,” but, “Thou hast known me; that is it which I am most concerned to believe and which it will be most profitable for me to consider.” Then we know these things for our good when we know them for ourselves, Job 5:27. When we acknowledge, “Lord, all souls are thine,” we must add, “My soul is thine; thou that hatest all sin hatest my sin; thou that art good to all, good to Israel, art good to me.” So here, “Thou hast searched me, and known me; known me as thoroughly as we know that which we have most diligently and exactly searched into.” David was a king, and the hearts of kings are unsearchable to their subjects (Proverbs 25:3), but they are not so to their Sovereign.

III. He descends to particulars: “Thou knowest me wherever I am and whatever I am doing, me and all that belongs to me.” 1. “Thou knowest me and all my motions, my down-sitting to rest, my up-rising to work, with what temper of mind I compose myself when I sit down and stir up myself when I rise up, what my soul reposes itself in as its stay and support, what it aims at and reaches towards as its felicity and end. Thou knowest me when I come home, how I walk before my house, and when I go abroad, on what errands I go.” 2. “Thou knowest all my imaginations. Nothing is more close and quick than thought; it is always unknown to others; it is often unobserved by ourselves, and yet thou understandest my thought afar off. Though my thoughts be ever so foreign and distant from one another, thou understandest the chain of them, and canst make out their connexion, when so many of them slip my notice that I myself cannot.” Or, “Thou understandest them afar off, even before I think them, and long after I have thought them and have myself forgotten them.” Or, “Thou understandest them from afar; from the height of heaven thou seest into the depths of the heart,” Psalm 33:14. 3. “Thou knowest me and all my designs and undertakings; thou compassest every particular path; thou siftest (or winnowest) my path” (so some), “so as thoroughly to distinguish between the good and evil of what I do,” as by sifting we separate between the corn and the chaff. All our actions are ventilated by the judgment of God, Psalm 17:3. God takes notice of every step we take, every right step and every by-step. He is acquainted with all our ways, intimately acquainted with them; he knows what rule we walk by, what end we walk towards, what company we walk with. 4. “Thou knowest me in all my retirements; thou knowest my lying down; when I am withdrawn from all company, and am reflecting upon what has passed all day and composing myself to rest, thou knowest what I have in my heart and with what thought I go to bed.” 5. “Thou knowest me, and all I say (Psalm 139:4): There is not a word in my tongue, not a vain word, nor a good word, but thou knowest it altogether, knowest what it meant, from what thought it came, and with what design it was uttered. There is not a word at my tongue’s end, ready to be spoken, yet checked and kept in, but thou knowest it.” When there is not a word in my tongue, O Lord! thou knowest all (so some read it); for thoughts are words to God. 6. “Thou knowest me in every part of me: Thou hast beset me behind and before, so that, go which way I will, I am under thy eye and cannot possibly escape it. Thou hast laid thy hand upon me, and I cannot run away from thee.” Wherever we are we are under the eye and hand of God. perhaps it is an allusion to the physician’s laying his hand upon his patient to feel how his pulse beats or what temper he is in. God knows us as we know not only what we see, but what we feel and have our hands upon. All his saints are in his hand.

IV. He speaks of it with admiration (Psalm 139:6): It is too wonderful for me; it is high. 1. “Thou hast such a knowledge of me as I have not of myself, nor can have. I cannot take notice of all my own thoughts, nor make such a judgment of myself as thou makest of me.”? 2. “It is such a knowledge as I cannot comprehend, much less describe. That thou knowest all things I am sure, but how I cannot tell.” We cannot by searching find out how God searches and finds out us; nor do we know how we are known.

Psalms 139:7-16


It is of great use to us to know the certainty of the things wherein we have been instructed, that we may not only believe them, but be able to tell why we believe them, and to give a reason of the hope that is in us. David is sure that God perfectly knows him and all his ways,

I. Because he is always under his eye. If God is omnipresent, he must needs be omniscient; but he is omnipresent; this supposes the infinite and immensity of his being, from which follows the ubiquity of his presence; heaven and earth include the whole creation, and the Creator fills both (Jeremiah 23:24); he not only knows both, and governs both, but he fills both. Every part of the creation is under God’s intuition and influence. David here acknowledges this also with application and sees himself thus open before God.

1. No flight can remove us out of God’s presence: “Whither shall I go from thy Spirit, from thy presence, that is, from thy spiritual presence, from thyself, who art a Spirit?” God is a Spirit, and therefore it is folly to think that because we cannot see him he cannot see us: Whither shall I flee from thy presence? Not that he desired to go away from God; no, he desired nothing more than to be near him; but he only puts the case, “Suppose I should be so foolish as to think of getting out of thy sight, that I might shake off the awe of thee, suppose I should think of revolting from my obedience to thee, or of disowning a dependence on thee and of shifting for myself, alas! whither can I go?” A heathen could say, Quocunque te flexeris, ibi Deum videbis occurrentem tibiWhithersoever thou turnest thyself, thou wilt see God meeting thee. Seneca. He specifies the most remote and distant places, and counts upon meeting God in them. (1.) In heaven: “If I ascend thither, as I hope to do shortly, thou art there, and it will be my eternal bliss to be with thee there.” Heaven is a vast large place, replenished with an innumerable company, and yet there is no escaping God’s eye there, in any corner, or in any crowd. The inhabitants of that world have as necessary a dependence upon God, and lie as open to his strict scrutiny, as the inhabitants of this. (2.) In hell – in Sheol, which may be understood of the depth of the earth, the very centre of it. Should we dig as deep as we can under ground, and think to hide ourselves there, we should be mistaken; God knows that path which the vulture’s eye never saw, and to him the earth is all surface. Or it may be understood of the state of the dead. When we are removed out of the sight of all living, yet not out of the sight of the living God; from his eye we cannot hide ourselves in the grave. Or it maybe understood of the place of the damned: If I make my bed in hell (an uncomfortable place to make a bed in, where there is no rest day or night, yet thousands will make their bed for ever in those flames), behold, thou art there, in thy power and justice. God’s wrath is the fire which will there burn everlastingly, Revelation 14:10. (3.) In the remotest corners of this world: “If I take the wings of the morning, the rays of the morning-light (called the wings of the sun, Malachi 4:2), than which nothing more swift, and flee upon them to the uttermost parts of the sea, or of the earth (Job 38:12, Job 38:13), should I flee to the most distant and obscure islands (the ultima Thule, the Terra incognita), I should find thee there; there shall thy hand lead me, as far as I go, and thy right hand hold me, that I can go no further, that I cannot go out of thy reach.” God soon arrested Jonah when he fled to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.

2. No veil can hide us from God’s eye, no, not that of the thickest darkness, Psalm 139:11, Psalm 139:12. “If I say, Yet the darkness shall cover me, when nothing else will, alas! I find myself deceived; the curtains of the evening will stand me in no more stead than the wings of the morning; even the night shall be light about me. That which often favours the escape of a pursued criminal, and the retreat of a beaten army, will do me no kindness in fleeing from them.” When God divided between the light and darkness it was with a reservation of this prerogative, that to himself the darkness and the light should still be both alike. The darkness darkeneth not from thee, for there is no darkness nor shadow of death where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.” No hypocritical mask or disguise, how specious soever, can save any person or action from appearing in a true light before God. Secret haunts of sin are as open before God as the most open and barefaced villanies.

II. Because he is the work of his hands. He that framed the engine knows all the motions of it. God made us, and therefore no doubt he knows us; he saw us when we were in the forming, and can we be hidden from him now that we are formed? This argument he insists upon (Psalm 139:13-16): “Thou hast possessed my reins; thou art Master of my most secret thoughts and intentions, and the innermost recesses of my soul; thou not only knowest, but governest, them, as we do that which we have possession of; and the possession thou hast of my reins is a rightful possession, for thou coveredst me in my mother’s womb, that is, thou madest me (Job 10:11), thou madest me in secret. The soul is concealed form all about us. Who knows the things of a man, save the spirit of a man?1Corinthians 2:11. Hence we read of the hidden man of the heart. But it was God himself that thus covered us, and therefore he can, when he pleases, discover us; when he hid us from all the world he did not intend to hide us from himself. Concerning the formation of man, of each of us,

1. The glory of it is here given to God, entirely to him; for it is he that has made us and not we ourselves. I will praise thee, the author of my being; my parents were only the instruments of it.” It was done, (1.) Under the divine inspection: My substance, when hid in the womb, nay, when it was yet but in fieriin the forming, an unshapen embryo, was not hidden from thee; thy eyes did see my substance. (2.) By the divine operation. As the eye of God saw us then, so his hand wrought us; we were his work. (3.) According to the divine model: In thy book all my members were written. Eternal wisdom formed the plan, and by that almighty power raised the noble structure.

2. Glorious things are here said concerning it. The generation of man is to be considered with the same pious veneration as his creation at first. Consider it, (1.) As a great marvel, a great miracle we might call it, but that it is done in the ordinary course of nature. We are fearfully and wonderfully made; we may justly be astonished at the admirable contrivance of these living temples, the composition of every part, and the harmony of all together. (2.) As a great mystery, a mystery of nature: My soul knows right well that it is marvellous, but how to describe it for any one else I know not; for I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the womb as in the lowest parts of the earth, so privately, and so far out of sight. (3.) As a great mercy, that all our members in continuance were fashioned, according as they were written in the book of God’s wise counsel, when as yet there was none of them; or, as some read it, and none of them was left out. If any of our members had been wanting in God’s book, they would have been wanting in our bodies, but, through his goodness, we have all our limbs and sense, the want of any of which might have made us burdens to ourselves. See what reason we have then to praise God for our creation, and to conclude that he who saw our substance when it was unfashioned sees it now that it is fashioned.

Psalms 139:17-24


Here the psalmist makes application of the doctrine of God’s omniscience, divers ways.

I. He acknowledges, with wonder and thankfulness, the care God had taken of him all his days, Psalm 139:17, Psalm 139:18. God, who knew him, thought of him, and his thoughts towards him were thoughts of love, thought of good, and not of evil, Jeremiah 29:11. God’s omniscience, which might justly have watched over us to do us hurt, has been employed for us, and has watched over us to do us good, Jeremiah 31:28. God’s counsels concerning us and our welfare have been, 1. Precious to admiration: How precious are they! They are deep in themselves, such as cannot possibly be fathomed and comprehended. Providence has had a vast reach in its dispensations concerning us, and has brought things about for our good quite beyond our contrivance and foresight. They are dear to us; we must think of them with a great deal of reverence, and yet with pleasure and thankfulness. Our thoughts concerning God must be delightful to us, above any other thoughts. 2. Numerous to admiration: How great is the sum of them! We cannot conceive how many God’s kind counsels have been concerning us, how many good turns he has done us, and what variety of mercies we have received from him. If we would count them, the heads of them, much more the particulars of them, they are more in number than the sand, and yet every one great and very considerable, Psalm 40:5. We cannot conceive the multitude of God’s compassions, which are all new every morning. 3. Constant at all times: “When I awake, every morning, I am still with thee, under thy eye and care, safe and easy under thy protection.” This bespeaks also the continual devout sense David had of the eye of God upon him: When I awake I am with thee, in my thoughts; and it would help to keep us in the fear of the Lord all the day long if, when we awake in the morning, our first thoughts were of him and we did then set him before us.

II. He concludes from this doctrine that ruin will certainly be the end of sinners. God knows all the wickedness of the wicked, and therefore he will reckon for it: “Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God! for all their wickedness is open before thee, however it may be artfully disguised and coloured over, to hide it from the eye of the world. However thou suffer them to prosper for a while, surely thou wilt slay them at last.” Now observe, 1. The reason why God will punish them, because they daringly affront him and set him at defiance (Psalm 139:20): They speak against thee wickedly; they set their mouth against the heavens (Psalm 73:9), and shall be called to account for the hard speeches they have spoken against him, Judges 1:15. They are his enemies, and declare their enmity by taking his name in vain, as we show our contempt of a man if we make a by-word of his name, and never mention him but in a way of jest and banter. Those that profane the sacred forms of swearing or praying by using them in an impertinent irreverent manner take God’s name in vain, and thereby show themselves enemies to him. Some make it to be a description of hypocrites: “They speak of thee for mischief; they talk of God, pretending to piety, but it is with some ill design, for a cloak of maliciousness; and, being enemies to God, while they pretend friendship, they take his name in vain; they swear falsely.” 2. The use David makes of this prospect which he has of the ruin of the wicked. (1.) He defies them: “Depart from me, you bloody men; you shall not debauch me, for I will not admit your friendship nor have fellowship with you; and you cannot destroy me, for, being under God’s protection, he shall force you to depart from me.” (2.) He detests them (Psalm 139:21, Psalm 139:22): “Lord, thou knowest the heart, and canst witness for me; do not I hate those that hate thee, and for that reason, because they hate thee? I hate them because I love thee, and hate to see such affronts and indignities put upon thy blessed name. Am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee, grieved to see their rebellion and to foresee their ruin, which it will certainly end in?” Note, Sin is hated, and sinners are lamented, by all that fear God. “I hate them” (that is, “I hate the work of them that turn aside,” as he explains himself, Psalm 101:3) “with a sincere and perfect hatred; I count those that are enemies to God as enemies to me, and will not have any intimacy with them,” Psalm 69:8.

III. He appeals to God concerning his sincerity, Psalm 139:23, Psalm 139:24. 1. He desires that as far as he was in the wrong God would discover it to him. Those that are upright can take comfort in God’s omniscience as a witness of their uprightness, and can with a humble confidence beg of him to search and try them, to discover them to themselves (for a good man desires to know the worst of himself) and to discover them to others. He that means honestly could wish he had a window in his breast that any man may look into his heart: “Lord, I hope I am not in a wicked way, but see if there be any wicked way in me, any corrupt inclination remaining; let me see it; and root it out of me, for I do not allow it.” 2. He desires that, as far as he was in the right, he might be forwarded in it, which he that knows the heart knows how to do effectually: Lead me in the way everlasting. Note, (1.) The way of godliness is an everlasting way; it is everlastingly true and good, pleasing to God and profitable to us, and will end in everlasting life. It is the way of antiquity (so some), the good old way. (2.) All the saints desire to be kept and led in this way, that they may not miss it, turn out of it, nor tire in it.