Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusts in the LORD, mercy shall compass him about.
Note the contrast in these words. The wicked, and those who trust in the Lord. And the "many sorrows" of the one, with the encompassing mercy of the other. The psalmist, therefore, defines wickedness as a not trusting in the Lord. This certainly is not the description that would be generally given of a wicked person. You think it too mild to give of a wicked person, simply to affirm in respect of such an one, that he is a man who places no trust in God; and yet more attentive examination will serve to illustrate that scarcely could there be a more emphatic or a more melancholy description to give of a wicked man, than to declare of him that he is the exact opposite of one who puts trust in God. Why, only consider how want of trust in God leads necessarily to all that is depraved and vicious in practice. The man who is devoid of such trust has no defence left to keep him from any one species of wickedness. What is it but trust in God — trust in His character — trust in His promises — trust in His threatenings, which lies at the foundation of all that is morally excellent? Do away with this trust, and there seems to be no safeguard left to hinder from wickedness, or allure to piety. Let this trust be wanting, and where is the motive remaining, whether to animate for duty, or to warn from iniquity? And so if we were set to delineate the moral character of the righteous, we should be tempted to say far more than that he is simply one who puts his trust in God. But because this is the real essence of his character, the root from which springs all else that is good, therefore it is after all the best description that could be given. And whilst the text tells of "many sorrows" that shall be to the wicked, it does not put "joys" as the distinguishing lot of the righteous in opposition to those sorrows. But it tells of "mercy:" not of joy. Let us now seek to vindicate the assertions of the text.
I. As TO THE WICKED. IS it true that many sorrows shall be to them? It often does not seem so, but the very reverse. But wherever a man reposes his main confidence, there he rests the foundation of his peace. But as the wicked does not trust in the Lord, he must be dependent on some created source, and all such are transient and perishable. No man can satisfy the desires of the soul with anything short of God. You cannot centre your affections on any created thing. Sorrow, then, must at length be inherited by the wicked. And they accompany him now; follow him into the recesses of his soul, where conscience will speak and will be heard, and what the soul has perpetually to hear is its condemning voice. There we see how it is that many sorrows shall be to the wicked.
II. As TO THE RIGHTEOUS. Mercy shall compass him about. Mercy, that is, pity and love. He needs both, for he is a transgressor, and prone to err. Therefore he needs not only love, but pity. And they are his. They are the mercy which environ him round. Who, then, would not rather choose his portion?
(R. Bickersteth, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the LORD, mercy shall compass him about.