O LORD God, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself.
Verses 1-7. - The cry for vengeance. Israel is suffering oppression - not, however, from foreign enemies, but from domestic tyrants (vers. 4-6). Innocent blood is shed; the widow and the orphan are trodden down. God, it is supposed, will not see or will not regard (ver. 7). The psalmist, therefore, cries out to God to manifest himself by taking signal vengeance on the evil doers (vers. 1, 2). Verse 1. - O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth (comp. Deuteronomy 32:35, "To me belongeth vengeance and recompence;" and Jeremiah 51:56, where God is called "the Lord God of reeompences," as he is here - literally - "the Lord God of vengeances"). O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, show thyself; or, "shine forth" - make thy justice to appear; show thyself in thy character of a God who will by no means clear the guilty (Exodus 34:7).
Lift up thyself, thou judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud.
Verse 2. - Lift up thyself (comp. Psalm 7:6; Isaiah 33:10). "Rouse thyself," that is, "from thy state of inaction" - come and visit the earth as Judge. Thou Judge of the earth (comp. Genesis 18:25; Psalm 58:11). Render a reward to the proud; rather, render a recompense - as the same phrase is translated in Lamentations 3:64.
LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph?
Verse 3. - Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph? "How long?" is the continual cry of the psalmists to God, as it is of the souls under the altar (Revelation 6:10; comp. above, Psalm 6:3; Psalm 13:1, 2; Psalm 35:7; Psalm 74:10; Psalm 79:5; Psalm 89:46; Psalm 90:13). It is a cry of weakness and impatience, but has an element of faith in it, on which God looks with favour.
How long shall they utter and speak hard things? and all the workers of iniquity boast themselves?
Verse 4. - How long shall they utter and speak hard things? rather, they pour forth, they utter arrogant things; literally, arrogance. And all the workers of iniquity boast themselves; or, "carry themselves proudly" (Cheyne).
They break in pieces thy people, O LORD, and afflict thine heritage.
Verse 5. - They break in pieces thy people, O Lord; or, "crush," "oppress" (comp. Isaiah 3:15; Proverbs 22:22, where the verb is evidently used, not of foreign foes, but of domestic oppressors). And afflict thine heritage; or, "thine inheritance" - those whom thou hast taken to be thy "peculiar people" (Deuteronomy 14:2), thine own exclusive possession.
They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless.
Verse 6. - They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless (comp. Isaiah 1:17-23; Isaiah 10:2; Ezekiel 22:6-9; Malachi 3:5; also Psalm 10:8-10).
Yet they say, The LORD shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.
Verse 7. - Yet they say, The Lord shall not see (comp. Psalm 10:11, 13). Foreign enemies did not suppose that Jehovah would not see, but trusted that their own gods were stronger than he, and would protect them (2 Kings 18:33-35). Neither shall the God of Jacob regard it. "The God of Jacob" would not be a natural expression in the mouth of Israel's foreign foes. They knew nothing of Jacob. But it was an expression frequently used by Israelites (Genesis 49:24; Psalm 20:1; Psalm 46:7; Psalm 75:9; Psalm 76:6; Psalm 81:1, 4; Isaiah 2:3; Isaiah 41:21; Micah 4:2, etc.).
Understand, ye brutish among the people: and ye fools, when will ye be wise?
Verses 8-11. - The appeal to Israel. The oppressors thought that their conduct would not be observed by God, or would not be taken into account. The psalmist appeals to them not to be so brutish and foolish (ver. 8), and argues, from the first principles of natural theology, that God must see and hear (ver. 9). If he chastises the heathen, why should he not also punish them (ver. 10)? Verse 8. - Understand, ye brutish among the people (comp. Psalm 92:6). That there were among God's people some so "brutish" as to suppose that God either did not see or did not regard their misdoings, appears also from Psalm 10:11, 13. And ye fools, when will ye be wise? When will ye put away your folly, and allow Wisdom to enter into your hearts? She is always crying in the streets: when will ye consent to listen (comp. Proverbs 1:20-23)?
He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?
Verse 9. - He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see? This argument for a real, personal, intelligent God appears here, for the first time. It is of irresistible force. "Can it be possible that God, who planned and made the curious mechanism of hearing and vision, is himself without those faculties, or something analogous to them? Must he not hear those cries, and see those outrages, which men, who are his creatures, see and hear? Is it conceivable that he can be an unobservant and apathetic God?" (Cheyne).
He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct? he that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know?
Verse 10. - He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct? i.e. if God does not leave even the heathen without rebukes and chastisements, shall he not much more punish those among his own people who do amiss? He that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know? Our version supposes an ellipse, which it fills up with great boldness, producing a very excellent sense. But the insertion made does not appear necessary (see the Revised Version).
The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.
Verse 11. - The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man. Not only does the Almighty see and know all the actions of men (ver. 9), but he is even acquainted with their thoughts (comp. Psalm 7:9; Psalm 26:2; Psalm 139:17; Isaiah 66:18; 1 Corinthians 3:20). That they are vanity (comp. Ecclesiastes 2:14, 15).
Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O LORD, and teachest him out of thy law;
Verses 12-19. - The blessedness of the righteous. The psalmist proceeds to console and comfort himself by considering in how many ways the righteous man is blessed.
1. God chastises him.
2. God teaches him.
3. God gives him a time of rest.
4. God never forsakes him.
5. God judges him righteously.
6. God helps him against evil doers (vers. 16, 17).
7. God upholds him when he is in danger of falling.
8. God inwardly comforts his soul. Verse 12. - Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord. The blessedness of chastening appears in Deuteronomy 7:5; 2 Samuel 7:14, 15; Job 5:17; Psalm 89:32, 33; Proverbs 3:12; and is the main point of Elihu's teaching in Job 33:15-30. It is not, as some have argued, entirely a New Testament doctrine. Unassisted human reason might discover it. Greek poets noted the connection between παθεῖν and μαθεῖν. Our own great dramatist draws upon his experience when he says-
"Sweet are the uses of adversity;
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Bears yet a precious jewel in his head." And teachest him out of thy Law. The existence of "the Law," and the general knowledge of it by God's people, is assumed here, as elsewhere in the Psalms (see especially Psalm 119.). Also it is assumed that "the Law" is a revelation from God.
That thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity, until the pit be digged for the wicked.
Verse 13. - That thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity. Trials and afflictions are means to an end, and the intended end is "rest" and peace. "There remaineth, therefore, a rest to the people of God" (Hebrews 4:9). Until the pit be digged for the wicked (comp. Psalm 9:1; Psalm 35:7, 8).
For the LORD will not cast off his people, neither will he forsake his inheritance.
Verse 14. - For the Lord will not cast off his people, neither will he forsake his inheritance (comp. Deuteronomy 4:31; 1 Samuel 12:22; 1 Kings 6:13; Isaiah 41:17). However long God's chastisements continue (see ver. 3), the faithful may be sure that God has not forsaken, and never will forsake, them, since "he forsaketh not his saints, but they are preserved forever" (Psalm 37:28). The promise is made equally to the faithful individuals ("his saints") and to faithful Churches ("his people," "his inheritance").
But judgment shall return unto righteousness: and all the upright in heart shall follow it.
Verse 15. - But judgment shall return unto righteousness. "Judgment," i.e. God's actual award of good and evil upon the earth, which has seemed to be divorced from justice, while the ungodly have prospered and the pious been afflicted (vers. 3-6), shall in the end "return unto righteousness," i.e. once more, evidently, conform to it and coincide with it. And all the upright in heart shall follow it; i.e. "and then all honest hearted men shall recognize the fact, see it, and rejoice in it."
Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? or who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?
Verse 16. - Who will rise up for me against the evil doers? or, who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity? But meanwhile, until this happy time come, what is the condition of the godly? Are they not left a prey to the evil doers, at their mercy, without a champion? The answer is given in the next verse.
Unless the LORD had been my help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence.
Verse 17. - Unless the Lord had been my Help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence. No; they are not without a champion; Jehovah is their Help. It is a part of their blessedness (ver. 12), that they are preserved. in life and protected from the wicked, by God himself. Otherwise they "had soon dwelt in silence." Their soul had gone down to the pit, to the abyss of Sheol, the silent land (comp. Psalm 115:17).
When I said, My foot slippeth; thy mercy, O LORD, held me up.
Verse 18. - When I said, My foot slippeth; thy mercy, O Lord, held me up. Another respect in which the godly, even though suffering affliction, are blessed. God upholds their tottering feet, and, when they are in danger, keeps them from falling.
In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.
Verse 19. - In the multitude of my thoughts within me; rather, my various thoughts, "my busy thoughts." Sarappim (as Dr. Kay observes) "are anxious, perplexing, branchings of thoughts," such as continually vex faithful yet doubting souls. Thy comforts delight my soul. Internal comfort is given by God himself to the perplexed and troubled in spirit, whereby they are "delighted," or, rather, "soothed and solaced."
Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law?
Verses 20-23. - The destruction of the evil doers. There can be no fellowship between light and darkness - between God and evildoers, especially those who carry out their wicked purposes under the forms of law (ver. 20), and go the length of condemning innocent blood (ver. 21). Such persons God, who defends the righteous (ver. 22), will assuredly bring to utter destruction (ver. 23). Verse 20. - Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee? The interrogative is here, as so often, an emphatic negative. By "the throne of iniquity" is meant iniquity in high places, wickedness enthroned upon the judgment seat, and thence delivering its unjust sentences. Oppressors in Israel made a large use of the machinery of the law to crush and ruin their victims (see Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 10:1, 2; Amos 5:7; Amos 6:12, etc.). Which frameth mischief by a law; i.e. which effects its mischievous purposes by means of the decrees of courts (comp. 1 Kings 21:10-13).
They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous, and condemn the innocent blood.
Verse 21. - They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous, and condemn the innocent blood (comp. 2 Kings 21:16; 2 Kings 24:4; Psalm 10:8; Proverbs 6:17; Isaiah 1:21; Isaiah 59:3, 7; Jeremiah 7:6; Jeremiah 22:3, 17, etc.). A Messianic allusion is possible, but not necessary.
But the LORD is my defence; and my God is the rock of my refuge.
Verse 22. - But the Lord is my Defence; and my God is the Rock of my refuge (comp. Psalm 18:2).
And he shall bring upon them their own iniquity, and shall cut them off in their own wickedness; yea, the LORD our God shall cut them off.
Verse 23. - And he shall bring upon them their own iniquity. Most manifestly when he makes them fall into their own snare (Psalm 7:15; Psalm 35:8; Psalm 57:6; Psalm 141:9, 10), but really also whenever he punishes them for their sins. And shall cut them off; or, "destroy," "exterminate" them. In their own wickedness; or, "by their wickedness." The wicked man is often "hoist with his own petard." Yea, the Lord our God shall cut them off. The repetition, like that in ver. 1, is emphatic, and solemnly confirms the entire section (vers. 20-23).