<<A Psalm of David.>> Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.
Verse 1. - Fret not thyself because of evildoers. According to Aristotle, we have a special emotion implanted in our nature - νέμεσις - which causes us to "fret" when we witness undeserved prosperity ('Rhet.,' 2:9, § 1). Certainly the feeling is very common and very strong; it is also characteristic of the best natures (see Psalm 73:3-14; Job 21:7-15; Jeremiah 12:1, 2; Malachi 3:15). The feeling does not need to be eradicated, but only to be held in check. Faith in God's retributive justice will enable us calmly to await "the end" (Psalm 73:17), in full assurance that ultimately God's vengeance will overtake the wicked man, and he will receive condign punishment. Neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. Envy is not a natural passion. To envy the evil-doers on account of their prosperity is at once a folly and a danger. Their position is really not enviable; and, if we allow ourselves to envy them, we shall be tempted to follow their example (see Proverbs 24:1).
For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.
Verse 2. - For they shall soon be cut down like the grass. So Zophar, in the Book of Job (Job 20:5), "The triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment." And, no doubt, if we compare time with eternity, the longest triumph that the wicked ever enjoy is but for a brief space, is soon gone, endures "but for a moment." It has a continuance, however, which to men in this life seems long, often intolerably long; and hence the disturbance which men's minds suffer on account of it (Job 21:7, 13; Psalm 73:3-16). And wither as the green herb (comp. Psalm 90:5, 6; Psalm 103:15; Isaiah 40:6, 7; James 1:10, 11; 1 Peter 1:24).
Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.
Verse 3. - Trust in the Lord, and do good. Notwithstanding any difficulty which the prosperity of the wicked causes thee, trust thou still in the Lord; be sure that his providence watches over thee, and endeavour still to serve him by "doing good." So shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed; rather, dwell in the land, and feed on faithfulness (Kay); i.e. remain where thou art, and be satisfied with the thought of God's faithfulness. Feed on this.
Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
Verse 4. - Delight thyself also in the Lord. Draw from communion with God all that inward intensity of joy which it is capable of giving. And he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. God will then grant thee all thy desires, and make thee perfectly happy.
Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.
Verse 5. - Commit thy way unto the Lord (comp. Proverbs 16:3; Psalm 22:8). The meaning is, "Cast thyself and thy life unreservedly upon God - yield thyself wholly to him - look to him for support and guidance." Trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. "He will accomplish all that thy faith has laid upon him" (Kay).
And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.
Verse 6. - And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday. If the prosperity of the wicked frets thee, because it seems to obscure thy righteousness, since while he appears to bask in the sunshine of God's favour, thy life is possibly overshadowed by clouds and darkness, be sure that, in the end, this seeming injustice will be remedied. God will not frown on thee always; one day he will turn on thee the light of his countenance, and make thy righteousness to shine forth like the sun in its noonday splendour.
Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.
Verse 7. - Rest in the Lord; literally, be silent; i.e. do not murmur; make no complaint; be silently acquiescent and resigned. And wait patiently for him. Be content to await his time, which is sure to be the right time. Meanwhile possess your soul in patience. Fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way (comp. ver. 1, of which this brings out the sense). It is when the ungodly prosper that the righteous are apt to repine. Because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass. It is the success of the ungodly in their wicked plots and schemes which especially vexes the righteous (see Job 9:24; Job 12:6; Job 21:7-9: 24:2-12; Psalm 72:5-12, etc.).
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.
Verse 8. - Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; i.e. such anger and such wrath as the prosperity of the wicked calls forth. Fret not thyself in any wise to do evil; rather, fret not thyself, only to do evil. No result could be looked for from the sort of "fretting" spoken of, but an evil one. If men will dwell unduly on the fact of the prosperity of the wicked, and brood upon it in their hearts, they will be apt, in the first instance, to envy the wicked, which is at once "to do evil;" and from this they will be naturally tempted to go on to an imitation of their wicked practices, which is to assimilate themselves altogether to the enemies of God, and to be guilty of practical apostasy (comp. Psalm 73:2, "But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well-nigh supped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked").
For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth.
Verse 9. - For evil-doers shall be out off. It is foolish to "fret" and rage and storm against the ungodly whom we see prospering, since they will certainly be "cut off" sooner or later - sooner rather than later, according to the belief of the writer (see vers. 2, 10). But those that wait upon the Lord (see Ver. 7), they shall inherit the earth. It is doubly foolish, since when the wicked are "cut off," as they will be assuredly some day, the godly will find themselves the inheritors of the earth. This prophecy is partially fulfilled from time to time, and will find its complete fulfilment in the "new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Peter 3:13).
For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be.
Verse 10. - For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be (compare the comment on ver. 2). Yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be; or, he shall not be. He shall have been swept away; his "place shall know him no more" (Psalm 103:16).
But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.
Verse 11. - But the meek shall inherit the earth. This prophecy is endorsed by our Lord (Matthew 5:5). It has only had occasional fulfilment hitherto, notably in Moses, the meekest man of his day (Numbers 12:3); to some extent in St. Louis and other great saints, whose influence has been world-wide, as St. Francis d'Assisi, St. Francis Xavier, St. Carlo Boromeo, and others. And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. Being men of peace, the meek, when they "inherit the earth," will establish universal peace (Isaiah 2:4; Isaiah 11:6-9; Isaiah 65:25; Ezekiel 34:25) and "delight in the abundance of it" (comp. Psalm 72:7).
The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth.
Verse 12. - The wicked plotteth against the just (comp. Psalm 31:13; Psalm 35:4, 7, etc.). Wicked men commonly lay their plots against the righteous, as being less likely to suspect them, and perhaps as less likely to resist their machinations. And gnasheth upon him with his teeth (comp. Psalm 35:16).
The Lord shall laugh at him: for he seeth that his day is coming.
Verse 13. - The Lord shall laugh at him (comp. Psalm 2:4; Psalm 59:8; and see the comment on the former passage). For he seeth that his day is coming; i.e. God sees that the day of the wicked man's visitation is approaching (see above, vers. 2, 9, 10; and comp. 1 Samuel 26:10).
The wicked have drawn out the sword, and have bent their bow, to cast down the poor and needy, and to slay such as be of upright conversation.
Verse 14. - The wicked have drawn out the sword, and bent their bow, to cast down the poor and needy. David is perhaps thinking especially of his own persecutors, Saul and Absalom, who pursued after him with armed men, and sought his life (1 Samuel 23:8, 14, 26; 1 Samuel 24:2; 1 Samuel 26:2; 2 Samuel 17:24-26; 2 Samuel 18:6-8). But he may also have in his mind the raids that powerful chiefs made upon their weak and peaceful neighbours (Job 24:5-12). And to slay such as be of a right conversation; or, such as are upright in way; i.e. such as lead a righteous
Their sword shall enter into their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.
Verse 15. - Their sword shall enter into their own heart. Such as "take the sword" often "perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). Absalom's rebellion cost him his life. Marauders would sometimes meet with a stout resistance, and be slain by those whom they had intended to plunder. And their bows shall be broken; i.e. they shall meet with failure.
A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked.
Verse 16. - A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked (comp. Proverbs 15:16; Proverbs 16:8).
For the arms of the wicked shall be broken: but the LORD upholdeth the righteous.
Verse 17. - For the arms of the wicked shall be broken (scrap. Psalm 10:15). The wicked shall be disabled from doing more mischief. If not slain outright, they shall return from the combats that they have provoked with shattered weapons (ver. 15) and damaged persons. But the Lord up-holdeth the righteous. Their adversaries in the encounters.
The LORD knoweth the days of the upright: and their inheritance shall be for ever.
Verse 18. - The Lord knoweth the days of the upright; literally, of the perfect - those who yield him a complete obedience. God takes loving note of their days, knows their number, and the events which each day will bring. He will cause all things to "work together for their good." And their inheritance shall be for ever (comp. vers. 27, 29, and 37; which all, like this verse, point, albeit vaguely, to a future life). The mere continuance of a man's posterity in a prosperous condition cannot exhaust the meaning of such phrases as, "Their inheritance shall be for ever;" "Dwell for evermore;" "The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever." If David himself meant no more than this, yet the Holy Spirit which inspired him may have meant more. At any rate, to the Christian the words will always bring up the thought of that "inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, which is reserved for us in heaven" (1 Peter 1:4).
They shall not be ashamed in the evil time: and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.
Verse 19. - They shall not be ashamed in the evil times. If they fall into adversity, it will not cause them to feel shame. They will know that they are not being punished for evil-doing, but that God is trying them and purifying them (Job 36:8-11). And in the days of famine they shall he satisfied (comp. Psalm 33:19).
But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the LORD shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.
Verse 20. - But the wicked shall perish (comp. vers. 2, 9, 10, 15, 36); literally, for the wicked shall perish. The happiness of the righteous cannot be complete until the wicked are removed out of their way; since, so long as they continue in the world, they will be ever vexing the righteous and troubling them (Psalm 56:1). And the enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs. So, many of the old commentators, as Aquila, Kimchi, and others; and among moderns, Rosenmuller, and Professor Alexander. But the bulk of recent critics translate, as the excellency of the pastures (Hupfeld, Kay, Hengstenberg, Canon Cook, Cheyne, Revised Version); i.e. the rich herbage which is burnt up by the heat of summer (comp. ver. 2). Both translations seem to be tenable; but the latter is perhaps preferable, since the consumption of the fat of lambs upon the altar is connected with the idea, not of rejection, but of acceptance. Into smoke shall they consume away (comp. Psalm 102:3).
The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again: but the righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth.
Verse 21. - The wicked borroweth, and pay-eth not again. The wicked man borrows with a light heart, though he may have no prospect of ever being able to repay. Living under God's curse (ver. 22), he is for the most part not able to repay; when he happens to be able, he is often not willing. But the righteous showeth mercy, and giveth (comp. Psalm 112:5, 9). The righteous has not often need to borrow (see Deuteronomy 15:6; Deuteronomy 28:12, 44). Rather, he lends and gives freely.
For such as be blessed of him shall inherit the earth; and they that be cursed of him shall be cut off.
Verse 22. - For such as be blessed of him (i.e. God) shall inherit the earth (see above, ver. 11). And they that be cursed of him shall be out off (see above, ver. 9).
The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.
Verse 23. - The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord; rather, established; i.e. upheld, and made firm. It is not the general superintendence of men's steps and goings by God (Proverbs 16:9; Proverbs 20:24) which is here spoken of; but the special strengthening and supporting of the steps of the pious. The wont גבר must be understood, not of the ordinary man, but of the good man. ("גבר, viri, scilicet justi, et Jova benedicti," Roseumuller). And he delighteth in his way. He "knows" it (Psalm 1:6), and looks upon it with favour, and even "has pleasure" in it (Psalm 35:27).
Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.
Verse 24. - Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down. "The difference," as Hengstenberg observes, "is that between misfortune or loss, and absolute ruin." The good man may be afflicted; he may even fall into some fault (Galatians 6:1) or grievous sin (2 Samuel 11:4); but so long as "the root of the matter is in him" (Job 19:28), God will not suffer him to be prostrated. For the Lord upholdeth him with his hand; literally, the Lord supports his hand. If he falls, God (as Luther says) "catches him by the hand, and raises him up again." So David had himself experienced (2 Samuel 12:13).
I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.
Verse 25. - I have been young, and now am old. It is most natural to understand this literally, and to gather from it that the psalmist, whether David or another, composed this psalm in advanced life. It has certainly all the gravity, calmness, seriousness, and tone of authority which befit a teacher of many years and much experience. Yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. The social condition of the Israelites was very unlike that of modern European communities. Though there were rich and poor among them, there could scarcely be any that were very poor. Where there was a general obligation upon all well-disposed persons to lend to such as were in need, and no interest could be asked upon loans, and in the year of jubilee all debts were remitted, and mortgaged lands returned to their original owners or their families, actual begging was scarcely possible, and at any rate could only be brought about by extreme and reckless misconduct. Many philanthropists believe that even at the present time in our own country mendicancy is nearly always the consequence of persistence in evil courses. Still more must this have been the case in Palestine in the time of the monarchy (see Proverbs 20:4).
He is ever merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed.
Verse 26. - He is ever merciful, and lendeth (comp. ver. 21). This psalm contains a good deal of repetition, perhaps intended to emphasize certain portions of its teaching (see vers. 1, 7, 8; 3, 27; 11, 22, 29; 7, 34, etc.). And his seed is blessed (comp. Psalm 25:13; Psalm 102:28; Psalm 112:2).
Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell for evermore.
Verse 27. - Depart from evil, and do good. The same injunction is given, in exactly the same words, in Psalm 34:14. And dwell for evermore. This is to be understood as a promise, "If thou wilt depart from evil, and do good, then thou shalt dwell in the land for ever" (comp. ver. 3).
For the LORD loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved for ever: but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off.
Verse 28. - For the Lord loveth judgment (comp. Psalm 11:7). "Judgment" - משׁפט - is here "justice," "righteousness;" as in Psalm 33:5; Psalm 99:4; Psalm 103:6, etc. And forsaketh not his saints (see ver. 25; and comp. Isaiah 41:17; Isaiah 42:16, etc.). They are preserved for ever. Something has probably fallen out at the commencement of this line, which ought to begin with the letter ain. But the seed of the wicked shall be out off. The wicked shall perish, not only in their own persons, but in their posterity, who shall be "cut off from the land of the living" (Isaiah 53:8), and have "their name blotted out" (Psalm 109:13).
The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever.
Verse 29. - The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for over (comp. vers. 3, 9, 11, 18, 22, 28, 34; and Proverbs 2:21). Bishop Butler sagaciously remarks that this is the natural tendency of things, if sufficient time be given, and accidental hindrances removed ('Analogy,' pt. 1. ch. 4.).
The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment.
Verse 30. - The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom. (On the essential union of wisdom with goodness, see the Proverbs, passim.) And his tongue talketh of judgment; i.e. utters only what is morally right, and,, in accordance with' truth and goodness. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." A good man out of the good treasure of his heart can only bring forth good things (Matthew 12:34, 35).
The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.
Verse 31. - The Law of his God is in his heart (camp. Deuteronomy 6:6; Psalm 40:8; Psalm 119:11; Isaiah 51:7). None of his steps shall slide. The two facts are associated as cause and effect. The having the Law of God in his heart prevents his sliding or going astray.
The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him.
Verse 32. - The wicked watcheth the righteous, and seeketh to slay him. Wicked men hate righteous men, as being a reproach to them, and also as being a hindrance and a danger. The righteous thwart their plans, oppose their proceedings, often frustrate their counsels. Sometimes their opposition brings the wicked man into peril, as when it takes the shape of prosecution before a court, or of help given to one who has fallen among thieves. Hence the hatred felt by the wicked towards the righteous is not surprising. It leads the wicked to entertain murderous thoughts - to be ever "watching" for an opportunity when he may take the righteous man at a disadvantage, and, if no other means of removing him from his path present themselves, kill him. Modern civilization, with its precautions and "resources," prevents actual violence for the most part; but the tour-derous instinct remains, and even now, in his heart, many a wicked man is a murderer.
The LORD will not leave him in his hand, nor condemn him when he is judged.
Verse 33. - The Lord will not leave him in his hand. God, as a general rule, does not allow the wicked man to work his will upon the righteous. He interposes one cheek or another, and saves the righteous man from destruction. Nor condemn him when he is judged; i.e. nor will he allow him to be condemned when the wicked man brings an accusation against him, and seeks to have him sentenced to death by an ignorant or unjust judge. These promises are not universal nor absolute, since many good men have been assassinated by their enemies, as Abel by Cain; and many have been wrongfully condemned to death and executed, as Naboth at the instigation of Jezebel.
Wait on the LORD, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off, thou shalt see it.
Verse 34. - Wait on the lord (comp. vers. 2, 5, 7; and Psalm 27:14; Psalm 62:5; Psalm 130:5; Proverbs 20:22). The injunction is repeated so often because of man's extreme impatience and unwillingness to "tarry the Lord's leisure" (Prayer-book Version of Psalm 27:16) trustfully and confidently. And keep his way. The way in which he would have them walk - the way of righteousness (comp. ver. 3). And he shall exalt thee to inherit the land (see ver. 29, and the comment ad loc.). When the ungodly are cut off, thou shalt see it (comp. Psalm 52:5, 6; Psalm 91:8). Doubtless with some satisfaction. As the "ungodly" spoken of are employed in watching for an occasion to "slay" the righteous (ver. 32), these last can scarcely witness their removal from the world by God's providence without a feeling of relief.
I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree.
Verse 35. - I have seen the wicked in great power, and flourishing like a green bay tree; rather, as in the margin, like a green tree in his own (or, his native) soil. Growing, i.e., rankly and luxuriantly, like a leafy shrub, that has never suffered transplantation (comp. Psalm 1:3; Ezekiel 31:3).
Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.
Verse 36. - Yet he passed away, and lo, he was not (cf. Job 20:5; Psalm 73:19, 20). Yea, I sought him, but he could not be found. The sudden disappearance of an imposing personality astonishes and confuses us. We cannot believe that one who has played so prominent a part in our drama of life is gone altogether. We look about for him; we expect him to reappear at any moment. We cannot realize the fact that he is vanished for ever. We ask ourselves, "Where is he?' (Job 20:7).
Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace.
Verse 37. - Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace. This translation is much disputed. Most ancients and many moderns render the first line, "Keep innocency, and observe uprightness," while some critics maintain that acharith in the second line must mean "posterity," and not "end." Others, again, join shalom to ish, and render, "There shall be posterity (or, a future) to the man of peace." However, the rendering of the Authorized Version is retained by our Revisers, and accepted in part by Hengstenberg and Dr. Kay, while it has the complete approval of Canon Cook.
But the transgressors shall be destroyed together: the end of the wicked shall be cut off.
Verse 38. - But the transgressors shall be destroyed together (comp. vers. 2, 9, 10, 15, 20, and 34). The end of the wicked shall be cut off. If achargth be taken to mean "posterity" in the preceding verse, it must be given the same signification here.
But the salvation of the righteous is of the LORD: he is their strength in the time of trouble.
Verse 39. - But the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord (comp. Psalm 3:8; Psalm 68:20, etc.). He is their Strength in the time of trouble (see Psalm 18:1; Psalm 46:1, etc.). The last two verses sum up the teaching of the psalm, and indicate its especial object, which was to encourage and sustain the righteous under their trials, by the assurance that they were under the special protection of God, who, whenever trouble threatened, would stand forth as their Strength and Defence, and would ultimately be their "Salvation." The full meaning of this last expression was left obscure, though enough was said to raise the hope that this world was not the end of everything, but rather the beginning.
And the LORD shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him.
Verse 40. - And the Lord shall help them, and deliver them; he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him. The ground of God's favour towards the righteous, and the ground moreover of their righteousness itself (ver. 3), is their trust in him. Trusting in him, they have taken his Law for their rule of life, and made it their constant endeavour to serve and please him.