Psalm 32:9
Be you not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near to you.
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(9) Whose mouth.—Here the text has evidently suffered, and the exact meaning is lost. There are also verbal difficulties. The word translated “mouth” elsewhere (except Psalm 103:5, where see Note) means “ornament,” and the literal rendering of the text as it stands is, with bit and bridle his ornament to hold, not approaching to thee. This may mean that the animal is harnessed, either “that it may not approach,” or “because without harness it will not approach.” In either case the general application is the same. Horses and mules can only be rendered obedient by restraints that are unworthy of a rational creature. The LXX. and Vulg. have “jaws” instead of “mouth,” and Ewald follows them, and renders the last clause, “of those who approach thee unfriendly.”

Psalm 32:9. Be not as the horse, or as the mule — God hath endowed you with reason, both to inform you what you ought to do. and to check you when you do amiss, and hath made you capable also of receiving good admonitions from others; do not therefore follow your own unbridled lusts and appetites; much less be refractory and untractable, when God would reduce you from the error of your ways; as if you were not men, but headstrong horses and mules, which can by no means be curbed or governed, without bit and bridle. Houbigant renders the last clause, very properly, Or they will not come near thee; for, as horses and mules are not dangerous beasts, whose common practice it is to kick or bite, the word lest is extremely improper. Nor is it the proper use of a bit, or bridle, to keep them from so doing, but rather to bring them nearer to the rider, for his use, and to keep them under his power and management.32:8-11 God teaches by his word, and guides with the secret intimations of his will. David gives a word of caution to sinners. The reason for this caution is, that the way of sin will certainly end in sorrow. Here is a word of comfort to saints. They may see that a life of communion with God is far the most pleasant and comfortable. Let us rejoice, O Lord Jesus, in thee, and in thy salvation; so shall we rejoice indeed.Be ye not as the horse - The horse as it is by nature - wild, ungoverned, unwilling to be caught and made obedient. The counsel referred to in the previous verse is here given; and it is, that one who wishes to obtain the favor of God should not be as the wild and unbroken horse, an animal that can be subdued only by a curb, but should evince a calm, submissive spirit - a spirit "disposed" to obey and submit. If he becomes a subject of God's government, he is not to be subdued and held as the horse is - by mere force; there must be the cheerful submission of the will. People are not brought into the service of God by physical power; they are not kept there by an iron "curb." They come and yield themselves willingly to his law; they "must" come with that spirit if they would find the favor of God.

Or as the mule - The mule is distinguished for its obstinacy, and this is evidently the ground of comparison here. The meaning is, be tractable, gentle, yielding; submit to the guidance and direction of God and his truth.

Which have no understanding - That cannot be controlled by reason and conscience. They are governed only by power and by fear. People have reason and conscience, and they should allow themselves to be controlled by appeals TO their reason and to their moral sense. They are not made to be governed as brutes are. Since they have a higher nature, they should permit themselves to be governed by it.

Whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle - More literally, "in bit and bridle is their ornament to restrain them;" that is, the trappings or the ornaments of the horse and the mule consist of the bridle and the bit, the purpose of which is to restrain or control them. The allusion, however, is not to the bit and bridle as an "ornament," but as the ordinary trappings of the mule and the horse.

Lest they come near unto thee - Or rather, "because of its not approaching thee;" that is, because the horse and the mule will not come to thee of their own accord, but must be restrained and controlled.

9. The latter clause, more literally, "in that they come not near thee"; that is, because they will not come, &c., unless forced by bit and bridle. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule; be not such brutish and sottish creatures as I have been, not having reason or grace to govern yourselves, nor hearkening to the counsels and admonitions of others. Lest they come near unto thee; lest they should come too near to thee, so as to bite or kick thee. But neither is this the common practice of horses or mules, of which he seems to speak; nor is this the proper use of a bit or bridle, to keep them from so doing; but rather to bring them nearer to the rider for his use, and to keep them under his conduct and power, from whom they are otherwise apt to run away. The words therefore are and may be otherwise rendered, because they do not or will not come near unto thee, to wit, for thy service, unless they be forced to it by a bit or bridle. And so all the ancient translators understand it. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding,.... The design of this exhortation is to direct men how to behave under the instructions given; not as brutes, which have no rational faculties, but as men; that they should not show themselves thoughtless, stupid, and unteachable, as these animals, or worse than they; nor stubborn and obstinate, refractory and untractable, resolving not to be taught, stopping the ear, and pulling away the shoulder; nor ill natured and mischievous; not only hating instruction, casting away the law of the Lord, but kicking and spurning at, and persecuting such who undertake to instruct them; as these creatures sometimes attempt to throw their riders, and, when down, kick at them;

whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee; to do mischief, bite or kick; or "because they do not come near to thee" (t); and that they may come near, and be brought into subjection, and become obedient; therefore such methods are used; see James 3:3; there is in the words a tacit intimation, that men are commonly, and for the most part, like these creatures, stupid, stubborn, and mischievous; and therefore severe methods are used by the Lord, sore chastenings, to humble and instruct them; see Jeremiah 31:18; the mule, more especially, is remarkable for its stupidity (u); and though the horse is docile, yet he is sometimes stubborn and refractory.

(t) "quia non accedunt ad te", Grotius. (u) "Mule, nihil sentis----", Catullus.

Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose {i} mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.

(i) If men can rule brute beasts, do they think that God will not bridle and tame their rage?

9, 10. A warning addressed to all not to resist God’s will, and neglect instruction.

Be not like horse like mule with no understanding,

With trappings of bit and bridle must they be curbed:

Else will they not come near unto thee.

The Heb. is obscure and possibly corrupt in some points; but the general sense is clear. Brute animals without reason must be controlled and compelled by force to learn to submit to man’s will. If man will not draw near to God and obey Him of his own free will, he lowers himself to the level of a brute, and must expect to be treated accordingly and disciplined by judgment (Isaiah 26:9-11).

For the thought that man who will not listen to God’s teaching ‘becomes brutish’ see Jeremiah 10:14; Jeremiah 10:21; Psalm 49:10; Psalm 49:12; Psalm 49:20; Psalm 73:22. The word rendered mouth in A.V., trappings in R.V., is of doubtful meaning. Some explain, whose wild spirit must be curbed &c.; but this is less probable. The A.V. of the last line, lest they come near unto thee, to hurt thee, gives no suitable point of comparison, and must certainly be rejected.Verse 9. - Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding. The singular is exchanged for the plural, since the "instruction" is now intended, not for the godly man only, but for all. Israel had been always stiff-necked (Exodus 32:9; Exodus 33:3, 5; Exodus 34:9; Deuteronomy 9:6, 13; Deuteronomy 10:16; 2 Chronicles 30:8; Acts 7:51), like a restive horse or mule. David exhorts them to be so no more. The horse and mule are excusable, since they "have no understanding " - or, "no discernment" - Israel would be inexcusable, since it had the gift of reason. Whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle; rather, whose adornings are with bit and bridle to hold them in (compare the Revised Version). Lest they come near unto thee. This clause is obscure. It may mean, "Lest they come too near to thee," so as to do thee damage, as when a riding horse tosses his head and strikes the rider in the face, or when a chariot horse rears and falls back upon the driver; or it may mean, "Else they will not come near to thee," i.e. until they are trapped with bit and bridle, they will refuse to come near to thee. For, as his own experience has taught the poet, he who does not in confession pour out all his corruption before God, only tortures himself until he unburdens himself of his secret curse. Since Psalm 32:3 by itself cannot be regarded as the reason for the proposition just laid down, כּי signifies either "because, quod" (e.g., Proverbs 22:22) or "when, quum" (Judges 16:16; Hosea 11:10. The שׁאגה was an outburst of the tortures which his accusing conscience prepared for him. The more he strove against confessing, the louder did conscience speak; and while it was not in his power to silence this inward voice, in which the wrath of God found utterance, he cried the whole day, viz., for help; but while his heart was still unbroken, he cried yet received no answer. He cried all day long, for God's punishing right hand (Psalm 38:3; Psalm 39:11) lay heavey upon him day and night; the feeling of divine wrath left him no rest, cf. Job 33:14. A fire burned within him which threatened completely to devour him. The expression is בּחרבני (like בעשׂן in Psalm 37:20; Psalm 102:4), without כ, inasmuch as the fears which burn fiercely within him even to his heart and, as it were, scorch him up, he directly calls the droughts of summer. The בּ is the Beth of the state or condition, in connection with which the change, i.e., degeneration (Job 20:14), took place; for mutare in aliquid is expressed by הפך ל. The ל (which Saadia and others have mistaken) in לשׁדּי is part of the root; לשׁד (from לשׁד, Arab. lsd, to suck), inflected after the analogy of גּמל and the like, signifies succus. In the summer-heat of anxiety his vital moisture underwent a change: it burned and dried up. Here the music becomes louder and does its part in depicting these torments of the awakened conscience in connection with a heart that still remains unbroken. In spite of this διάψαλμα, however, the historical connection still retains sufficient influence to give אודיעך the force of the imperfect (cf. Psalm 30:9): "I made known my sin and my guilt did I not cover up (כּסּה used here as in Proverbs 27:13; Job 31:33); I made the resolve: I will confess my transgressions to the Lord (הודה equals חתודּה, Nehemiah 1:6; Nehemiah 9:2; elsewhere construed with the accusative, vid., Proverbs 28:13) - then Thou forgavest," etc. Hupfeld is inclined to place אמרתי before חטאתי אודיעך, by which אודיעך and אודה would become futures; but ועוני לא כסיתי sounds like an assertion of a fact, not the statement of an intention, and ואתה נשׂאת is the natural continuation of the אמרתי which immediately precedes. The form ואתה נשׂאת is designedly used instead of ותּשּׂא. Simultaneously with his confession of sin, made fide supplice, came also the absolution: then Thou forgavest the guilt (עון, misdeed, as a deed and also as a matter of fact, i.e., guilt contracted, and penance or punishment, cf. Lamentations 4:6; Zechariah 14:19) of my sin. Vox nondum est in ore, says Augustine, et vulnus sanatur in corde. The סלה here is the antithesis of the former one. There we have a shrill lament over the sinner who tortures himself in vain, here the clear tones of joy at the blessed experience of one who pours forth his soul to God - a musical Yea and Amen to the great truth of justifying grace.
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