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Commentary on Psalms - Volume 1
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Psalm 34:11-14

11. Come, children, hearken unto me, I will teach you the fear of Jehovah. 12. Who is the man who desireth life, loving days in which he may see good? 13. Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking deceit. 14. Turn away from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.

 

11. Come, children, 696696     By this affectionate appellation, Hebrew teachers were wont to address their scholars. hearken unto me. The Psalmist continues, with increased earnestness, to exhort the faithful, that they may know that nothing can be more profitable for them than to conduct themselves justly and harmlessly towards all men. As the greater part of men imagine that the best and the shortest way to attain a life of happiness and ease consists in striving to surpass other men in violence, fraud, injustice, and other means of mischief, it is necessary frequently to repeat this doctrine. Moreover, as it is necessary that the minds of men should be brought to a chastened and humble state, by calling them his children, he endeavors, by this gentle and courteous appellation, to allay all froward affections. None will stand unmoved amidst so many assaults, but those who have been endued by the Spirit of meekness with the greatest modesty. The prophet, therefore, tells them at the outset, that the rule of life which he prescribes can be observed and obeyed by those only who are meek and submissive. To the same purpose is the word come, and the command to hearken; and they imply, that men laying aside all wilfulness of spirit, and having subdued the ardor and impetuosity of their minds, should become docile and meek. He has put the fear of the Lord for the rule of a pious and holy life: as if he had said, Whilst virtue and righteousness are in every man’s mouth, there are few who lead a holy life, and live as they ought; because they know not what it is to serve God.

12. Who is the man who desireth life? The prophet does not inquire if there be any man so disposed, as if all men voluntarily brought upon themselves the miseries which befall them; for we know that all men without exception desire to live in the enjoyment of happiness. But he censures severely the blindness and folly which men exhibit in the frowardness of their desires, and the vanity of their endeavors to obtain happiness; for while all men are seeking, and eagerly intent upon acquiring what is for their profit, there will be found scarcely one in a hundred who studies to purchase peace, and a quiet and desirable state of life, by just and equitable means. The prophet therefore admonishes his disciples, that nearly the whole world are deceived and led astray by their own folly, while they promise themselves a happy life from any other source than the divine blessing, which God bestows only upon the sincere and upright in heart. But there is in this exclamation still greater vehemence, the more effectually to awaken dull and drowsy minds to the course of this world; as if he had said, Since all men earnestly desire happiness, how comes it to pass, that scarcely any one sets himself to obtain it, and that every man, by his own fault, rather brings upon himself various troubles?

13. Keep thy tongue from evil The precept which David here delivers relates to a virtue which is very rare, namely, that we should be truthful and free from deceit in our discourse. Some, indeed, understand it in a much more extended sense, supposing that slander is condemned in this first clause. But it seems to me more simple, and more to the purpose, to understand this as of the same import with what he repeats in the second clause, that we should not speak deceitfully with our neighbors, so as that our words may prove the means of ensnaring them. And since nothing is more difficult than to regulate our discourse in such a manner as that our speech may be a true representation of our hearts, David calls upon us to exercise over it a strict and watchful control, not suffering it to run riot, lest it should prove the occasion of our deceiving others.

14. Turn away from evil, and do good. Here the Psalmist commands the children of God to abstain from all evil, and to devote themselves to the work of doing good to their neighbors. This verse is generally quoted as if David here treated of the two parts of repentance. The first step in the work of repentance is, that the sinner forsake the vices to which he is addicted, and renounce his former manner of life; and the second, that he frame his behavior according to righteousness. But in this place we are more especially taught how we ought to deal with our neighbors. As it often happens, that the man who is not only liberal, but also prodigal towards some, or, at least, helps many by acts of kindness, wrongs others by defrauding and injuring them, David, with much propriety, begins by saying, that those who desire to have their life approved before God, ought to abstain from doing evil. On the other hand, since many think, that provided they have neither defrauded, nor wronged, nor injured any man, they have discharged the duty which God requires from them, he has added, with equal propriety, the other precept concerning doing good to our neighbors. It is not the will of God that his servants should be idle, but rather that they should aid one another, desiring each other’s welfare and prosperity, and promoting it as far as in them lies. David next inculcates the duty of maintaining peace: Seek peace, and pursue it. Now we know that this is maintained by gentleness and forbearance. But as we have often to do with men of a fretful, or factious, or stubborn spirit, or with such as are always ready to stir up strife upon the slightest occasion; and as also many wicked persons irritate us; and as others by their own wickedness alienate, as much as in them lies, the minds of good men from them, and others industriously strive to find grounds of contention; he teaches us not merely that we ought to seek peace, but if at any time it shall seem to flee from us, he bids us use our every effort without ceasing in pursuing it. This, however, must be understood with some limitation. It will often happen, that when good and humble men have done every thing in their power to secure peace, so far from softening the hearts of the wicked, or inclining them to uprightness, they rather excite their malice. Their impiety, also, often constrains us to separate from them, and to avoid them; nay, when they defy God, by proclaiming, as it were, open war against him, it would be disloyalty and treason on our part not to oppose and resist them. But here David means only that in our own personal affairs we should be meek and condescending, and endeavor, as far as in us lies, to maintain peace, though its maintenance should prove to us a source of much trouble and inconvenience.


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