This psalm consists of three distinctly defined stanzas of nearly equal length. The first portrays the wicked man who has reached the lowest grade of impiety. The second exalts the goodness and justice of God. The third, which is, in a sort, a practical application of the others, expresses, under the form of a prayer, the right choice to make between the two tendencies, the pious and the impious. The sudden transition at the end of the first stanza has led some critics to pronounce the psalm composite. But what else can the heart, which would not sink beneath the oppressive sense of the accumulated sin and misery of earth, do, but turn suddenly and confidently to the thought of an infinite and abiding goodness and truth. The only resource of faith that would not fail is to appeal from earth to heaven, and see, high over all the fickleness and falsehood of men, the faithfulness of God: strong above all the insolence and tyranny of the wicked His eternal justice: large, deep, and sure, when all other supports seem to fail, His vast and unchanging love.
Those who understand by “God’s house,” in Psalm 36:8, the Temple, reject the Davidic authorship. But understood of the world generally, or, better, of the heavenly abode of the Divine, it does not serve as an indication of date, and there is nothing else in the poem to decide when it was written. The parallelism is varied.
Title.—For “servant of the Lord,” as applied to David, see Psalms 18 (title).
There is no fear . . .—This is not the suggestion of sin just mentioned, but an explanation of the condition into which the wicked man has sunk. Impiety and irreverence have so corrupted his nature, that sin has become his oracle.
Sin is the wicked man’s oracle in his heart;
No fear of God is before his eyes;
He makes all smooth to himself in his eyes.
As to the discovery of his guilt that is his hate;
The discovery of his guilt is the only thing he hates.
This reading takes the two infinitives as subject and complement with the copula understood. It would be strange if Hebrew, which, above all languages, makes the infinitive do duty in various ways, offered no instance of such a use. (For matsa aven in the sense of the discovery of guilt, comp. Genesis 44:16; Hosea 12:8, etc.)
Restrain in me the cursed thoughts that nature
Gives way to in repose.
But this man “deviseth mischief upon his bed.” When even the worst criminals shudder at their own deeds, whispering to their “deaf pillows” the agonies that creep over them with darkness and silence, this ungodly man of the Hebrew poet’s picture is occupied rather in scheming fresh villainies; even then he abhorreth not evil, or better, rejecteth not, catches rather at every fresh suggestion, and shapes it to his end.
Jehovah, to the heavens (reacheth) thy grace,
Thy faithfulness to the sky.
i.e., there are no narrower bounds of divine mercy and truth.
A great deep.—The reference, as usual, with the words deep, depth, is to the great abyss of waters, of which the seas were regarded as the surface.
The twofold comparison in this verse recalls Wordsworth’s lines—
“Two voices are there: one is of the sea.
One of the mountains—each a mighty voice.”
but while to the modern poet the voice is Liberty, to the ancient Hebrew it is Righteousness. The majesty of the hills has often suggested the supremacy of right over wrong—
“Thou hast a voice, great mountain, to repeal
Large codes of fraud and woe.”
The calm of the infinite sea has often soothed agitated souls. Hebrew poetry connected both immediately with God. the uplifted strength of the hills became an emblem of His eternal truth; the depth and expanse of the infinite sea of His outspread goodness and inexhaustible justice.
Therefore . . .—Better, the simple conjunction, and sons of men, they find shelter, &c
Shadow of thy wings.—See Psalm 17:8, Note.
Fatness, therefore, is not here the fat of the sacrificial offerings, but the stream of grace flowing from above, to enrich men as the rain enriches the earth. (Comp. Psalm 65:11, where “fatness” means “fertilising showers”)
The house of God may either be the whole earth (Gesenius), or, more probably, heaven, just as the temple is used (Psalm 11:4; Psalm 18:6; Psalm 29:9). God’s loving-kindness is regarded as
“An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink.”
“The author of all being,
Fountain of light, thyself invisible
Amidst the glorious brightness where thou sitt’st.”
It contains the germ of that moral and spiritual teaching which had its highest development in the Epistles of St. John. But the original intention of the words seems to be that the favour and bounty of God commend themselves as divine in origin, especially to those in the covenant relation.
Remove.—Better, expel, but we have no indication from where. Perhaps from the Temple.