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Commentary on Psalms - Volume 1
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Psalm 4:6-7

6. Many say, Who will show us good? 5757     The reader will observe, that Calvin does not use the word any, a supplement which is to be found in our English version. The question is certainly more emphatic without this word. “The word any,” says Dr Adam Clarke, “is not in the text, nor any thing equivalent to it; and yet not a few have quoted it, and preached upon the text, placing the principal emphasis upon this illegitimate word.” Lift thou up upon us the light of thy countenance, O Jehovah. 7. Thou hast given more joy to my heart than they have in the time when their corn and their wine are increased.

 

6. Many say. Some are of opinion that David here complains of the cruel malice of his enemies, because they greedily sought for his life. But David, I have no doubt, compares the sole wish with which his own heart was burning, to the many desires with which almost all mankind are distracted. As it is not a principle held and acted upon by ungodly men, that those only can be truly and perfectly happy who are interested in the favor of God, and that they ought to live as strangers and pilgrims in the world, in order through hope and patience to obtain, in due time, a better life, they remain contented with perishing good things; and, therefore, if they enjoy outward prosperity, they are not influenced by any great concern about God. Accordingly, while, after the manner of the lower animals, they grasp at various objects, some at one thing, and some at another, thinking to find in them supreme happiness, David, with very good reason, separates himself from them, and proposes to himself an end of an entirely opposite description. I do not quarrel with the interpretation which supposes that David is here complaining of his own followers, who, finding their strength insufficient for bearing the hardships which befell them, and exhausted by weariness and grief, indulged in complaints, and anxiously desired repose. But I am rather inclined to extend the words farther, and to view them as meaning that David, contented with the favor of God alone, protests that he disregards, and sets no value on objects which others ardently desire. This comparison of the desire of David with the desires of the world, well illustrates this important doctrine, 5858     “or ceste comparaison du desir de David avec ceux des mondains amplifie bien la substance de ceste doctrine.” — Fr. that the faithful, forming a low estimate of present good things, rest in God alone, and account nothing of more value than to know from experience that they are interested in his favor. David, therefore, intimates in the first place, that all those are fools, who, wishing to enjoy prosperity, do not begin with seeking the favor of God; for, by neglecting to do this, they are carried about by the various false opinions which are abroad. In the second place, he rebukes another vice, namely, that of gross and earthly men in giving themselves wholly to the ease and comforts of the flesh, and in settling down in, or contenting themselves with, the enjoyment of these alone, without thinking of any thing higher. 5959     “Se contentent d’en jouir sans panser plus haut.” — Fr. Whence also it comes to pass, that as long as they are supplied with other things according to their desire, they are altogether indifferent about God, just as if they had no need of him. David, on the contrary, testifies, that although he may be destitute of all other good things, the fatherly love of God is sufficient to compensate for the loss of them all. This, therefore, is the purport of the whole: ”The greater number of men greedily seek after present pleasures and advantages; but I maintain that perfect felicity is only to be found in the favor of God.”

David uses the expression, The light of God’s countenance, to denote his serene and pleasant countenance — the manifestations of his favor and love; just as, on the other hand, the face of God seems to us dark and clouded when he shows the tokens of his anger. This light, by a beautiful metaphor, is said to be lifted up, when, shining in our hearts, it produces trust and hope. It would not be enough for us to be beloved by God, unless the sense of this love came home to our hearts; but, shining upon them by the Holy Spirit, he cheers us with true and solid joy. This passage teaches us that those are miserable who do not, with full resolution, repose themselves wholly in God, and take satisfaction therein, 6060     “Se repose totalement en Dieu et y prendre contentement.” — Fr. even although they may have an overflowing abundance of all earthly things; while, on the other hand, the faithful, although they are tossed amidst many troubles, are truly happy, were there no other ground for it but this, that God’s fatherly countenance shines upon them, which turns darkness into light, and, as I may say, quickens even death itself.

7. Thou hast given more joy to my heart. By another comparison he better expresses and illustrates the strength of his affection, showing that, having obtained the good which he had longed for, he does not in the least degree envy the wealth and enjoyments of others, but is altogether contented with his own lot. The sum is, that he had more satisfaction in seeing the reconciled countenance of God beaming upon him, than if he had possessed garners full of corn, and cellars full of wine. 6161     The allusion is to the joy of the harvest and vintage. Interpreters are not agreed as to the word מעת, me-eth, which we have translated, in the time. Some give this rendering, Thou hast put gladness into my heart, Since The Time that their corn and wine increased; as if David had said, I rejoice when I see mine enemies prospering in the world. 6262     “Or combien que les expositeurs varient en ce mot que nous avons traduit, Au temps: pource qu’aucuns traduisent, Tu m’as donne liesse au coeur depuis le temps que, etc., comme s’il disoit, Je suis joyeux quand je voy prosperer mes ennemis en ce monde.” — Fr. But the former translation appears to me much more suitable; according to which David declares, that he rejoices more in the favor of God alone, than earthly men rejoice when they enjoy all earthly good things, with the desire of which they are generally inflamed. He had represented them as so bent upon, and addicted to, the pursuit of worldly prosperity, as to have no great care about God; and now he adds, that their joy in the abundance and increase of their wine and corn is not so great as is his joy in a sense of the divine goodness alone. This verse contains very profitable instruction. We see how earthly men, after they have despised the grace of God, and plunged themselves over head and ears in transitory pleasures, are so far from being satisfied with them, that the very abundance of them inflames their desires the more; and thus, in the midst of their fullness, a secret uneasiness renders their minds uncomfortable. Never, therefore, shall we obtain undisturbed peace and solid joy until the favor of God shine upon us. And although the faithful also desire and seek after their worldly comforts, yet they do not pursue them with immoderate and irregular ardor; but can patiently bear to be deprived of them, provided they know themselves to be the objects of the divine care.


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