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Commentary on Psalms - Volume 2
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Psalm 37:23-26

23. The footsteps of a man are directed by Jehovah, and he will delight [or, take pleasure] in his way. 24. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for Jehovah upholdeth him with his hand. 25. I have been young, I am also become old; and yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. 26. He is daily merciful, and lendeth, and his seed is for blessing.

 

23 The footsteps of a man are directed by Jehovah Some join together these two things, first, that the footsteps of the godly are ordered by the grace of God, since men do not in their own strength follow what is just and right, but only in so far as the Spirit of God directs them; and hence the second follows, namely, that God favors and approves what is his own. But David simply continues his commendation of the divine blessing towards the faithful, of whom this is especially worthy of being remembered, that whatever they undertake always has a favorable and happy result. At the same time, the reason why God crowns with prosperity and success all our efforts throughout the course of our life is to be observed, namely, because we attempt nothing which is not pleasing to him. For I consider the copula and, in the second clause of the verse, to be used instead of the causal particle because, and resolve the whole verse in this way: Because the way of the godly is acceptable to God, he directs their footsteps to a happy issue; so that the meaning is, As God sees that the faithful act conscientiously, and do not turn aside from the way which he has appointed, he blesses their efforts. And, certainly, since the prophet speaks generally — and yet it is certain that the faithful only are here spoken of — the second clause must necessarily be considered as spoken by way of exposition. Accordingly, the term way denotes their manner and course of living; as if he had said, that the godly have no other object in view but to frame their lives agreeably to the will of God, and to obey what he commands. The term footsteps I consider as referring to external success.

24 Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down This verse has generally been interpreted proverbially, and as meaning, that though the righteous may fall into sin, his fall is not deadly; but this is not at all in accordance with the design of the prophet, who is discoursing of the happiness of the godly. The simple meaning is, that when God visits his servants with severe afflictions, he at the same time mitigates them that they may not faint under them; 4040     “Neither the text,” says Dr Adam Clarke, “nor any of the versions, intimate that a falling into sin is meant; but a falling into trouble, difficulty,” etc. as Paul declares,

“We are persecuted, but not forsaken;
cast down, but not destroyed.”— (2 Corinthians 4:9)

Some say that the righteous are not utterly cast down, because they lose not their courage, but rather bear with invincible fortitude whatever burden is laid upon them. I readily admit that the reason why they are not overwhelmed is, that they are not so tender and delicate as to sink under the burden. I, however, understand the words in a more extensive sense, and explain them thus: That the miseries of the godly are so tempered with God’s fatherly mercy, that they fail not under their burden, and even when they fall, sink not into destruction. From these words we learn that the godly, although they serve God sincerely, and study to lead a blameless life, are not suffered to continue unmoved, and always in the same condition, but are often afflicted and cast down by various trials; and that the only difference between them and the unbelieving is, that their falls are not deadly. We know that if God smite the reprobate, though it be but very slightly, it becomes the cause of their final destruction. Solomon speaks still more expressly when he says,

“For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again,”
(Proverbs 24:16,)

and by these words he teaches us, that the godly are not only subjected to frequent afflictions in this life, but that they are visited with daily trials, and yet are never forsaken of the Lord. We must also shortly observe, that even the slightest fall would be enough to destroy us utterly, did not God uphold us by his hand.

25 I have been young, I am also become old. The meaning of these words is not in the least doubtful, namely, that David, even when he was become an old man, had not seen any of the righteous, or any of their children, begging their bread. But here there arises a question of some difficulty with respect to the fact stated; for it is certain that many righteous men have been reduced to beggary. And what David here declares as the result of his own experience pertains to all ages. Besides, he refers in this verse to the writings of Moses, for in Deuteronomy 15:4, begging is reckoned among the curses of God; and the law, in that place, expressly exempts from it those who fear and serve God. How then does the consistency of this appear, that none of the righteous ever begged his bread, since Christ placed Lazarus among the most abject of them? (Luke 16:20.) I answer, that we must bear in mind what I have before said upon this subject, that with respect to the temporal blessings which God confers upon his people, no certain or uniform rule can be established. There are various reasons why God does not manifest his favor equally to all the godly in this world. He chastises some, while he spares others: he heals the secret maladies of some, and passes by others, because they have no need of a like remedy: he exercises the patience of some, according as he has given them the spirit of fortitude; and, finally, he sets forth others by way of example. But in general, he humbles all of them by the tokens of his anger, that by secret warnings they may be brought to repentance. Besides, he leads them, by a variety of afflictions, to fix their thoughts in meditation upon the heavenly life; and yet it is not a vain or imaginary thing, that, as is set forth in the Law, God vouchsafes earthly blessings to his servants as proofs of his favor toward them. I confess, I say, that it is not in vain, or for nought, that an abundance of earthly blessings, sufficient for the supply of all their wants, is promised to the godly. This, however, is always to be understood with this limitation, that God will bestow these blessings only in so far as he shall consider it expedient: and, accordingly, it may happen that the blessing of God may be manifested in the life of men in general, and yet some of the godly be pinched with poverty, because it is for their good. But if it happen that any of the faithful are brought to beggary, they should lift up their minds on high, to that blessed state in which God will largely recompense them for all that is now wanting in the blessings of this transitory life. We must also bear this in mind, that if God sometimes involve the faithful in the same punishments by which he takes vengeance upon the ungodly — seeing them, for example, affected with the same diseases, — in doing so there is no inconsistency; for although they do not come the length of contemning God, nor are devoted to wickedness, nor even act according to their own inclination, nor yield themselves wholly to the influence of sin like the wicked, yet are they not free of all blame; and, therefore, it need not surprise us though they are sometimes subjected to temporal punishments. We are, however, certain of this, that God makes such provision for his own people, that, being contented with their lot, they are never in want; because, by living sparingly, they always have enough, as Paul says, Philippians 6:12,

“I am instructed both to abound and to suffer need.”

26 He is daily merciful The Psalmist here repeats what he had already said, that the grace of God is a fountain of all blessings which can never be exhausted; and, therefore, while it is displayed towards the faithful, they not only have enough for the supply of their own wants, but are able also liberally to assist others. What he adds concerning their seed is variously expounded. That he is speaking of the children of the godly, there can be no doubt; and this is evident from the preceding verse. But when he says that they shall be for blessing, 4141     This is also the reading of the Septuagint, Τὸ σπέζμα αὐτου εἰς εὐλογίαν ἕσται some understand it as if he had said, They shall be the ministers of God’s liberality: so that, according to them, the sense would be, that they shall follow the good example of their fathers in helping the poor, and in exercising liberality towards all men. But I fear that this exposition is too refined. Nor do I admit the interpretation which has been given by others, that the meaning is, that the grace of God shall be so signally manifested towards the children of the godly, that their names shall be employed in a form of prayer, when prosperity and success are prayed for. This mode of expression, I allow, is to be so understood in various places; but here, in my opinion, David designs nothing more than to extol the continuation of God’s favor from the fathers to their children: as if he had said, God’s blessing does not terminate with the death of the righteous man, but it extends even to his children. 4242     Ainsworth reads, “And his seed are in the blessing,” and understands the words as meaning, that the children of the just man “are in the blessing, or are appointed to the blessing, as the heirs thereof,” Genesis 28:3; 1 Peter 3:9; and that they have still abundance, notwithstanding the liberality of their parents; for “the blessing of the Lord maketh rich,” Proverbs 10:22. And there is indeed no inheritance more certain to which our children may succeed us, than when God, receiving them in like manner into his fatherly favor, makes them partakers of his blessing.


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