J.Calvin on Psalm 119:42 – How we are “…proof against the attacks of the world.”

For our further instruction in and meditation on the sixth (6th) section of Psalm 119 today, we also post these thoughts of John Calvin on v.42. May his comments also serve to confirm us in our need for God’s Word to be central in our hearts and lives.

JCalvinPicIn the second verse he boasts that he is furnished with the best defense against the calumnies of his enemies, arising from his trust in the word of God. We may resolve the future tense into the optative mood, as many do: O Lord, since I have trusted in thy word, grant that my mouth with all boldness may repel the slanders which they utter against me, and suffer me not to be silent when they load me with unmerited reproach.”

Whichever of these meanings we adopt, we are taught that there will always be evil-speakers, who will not cease to defame the children of God, though they be entirely undeserving of such treatment. It is somewhat dubious to what particular kind of reproach he refers; for the ungodly not only cover the children of God with ignominy, but also make their faith the subject of ridicule. I prefer the following interpretation, because it agrees best with the context, and David is here placing his trust in God in opposition to their derision. “I shall have something to reply to the base mockery of the enemies who injure me without cause, in that God never disappoints those who place their confidence in him.” If any one be inclined to consider the passage as embracing both meanings, I offer no objection to it.

Besides, he does not simply say, that he trusted in God, but that he also trusted in his word, which is the ground of his trust. We must carefully attend to the correspondence and mutual relation between the term word, in the first part of the verse, and that in the other. Were not God, by his Word, to furnish us with another word for our defense, we would instantly be overwhelmed with the insolence of our enemies. If, then, we wish to be proof against the attacks of the world, the commencement and foundation of our magnanimity is here pointed out to us, — our trusting in God’s word, guarded by which, the Spirit of God calls upon us boldly to contemn the virulent blasphemies of the ungodly. And to qualify us for repelling such blasphemies, he connects the word of hope with the word of confession.

Sunday Worship Preparation: Psalm 119f (Vau)

Psalm119fAs we once again anticipate and prepare for worship in the Lord’s house today, we consider the next section of Psalm 119, marked by the heading “Vau” for the Hebrew letter which begins each line in this stanza (Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem. See my initial post on this psalm for more information on this.). As the inspired psalmist continued to express his love for and devotion to the law of God (and all His Word), this is what he was led to write in this stanza:


41 Let thy mercies come also unto me, O Lord, even thy salvation, according to thy word.

42 So shall I have wherewith to answer him that reproacheth me: for I trust in thy word.

43 And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth; for I have hoped in thy judgments.

44 So shall I keep thy law continually for ever and ever.

45 And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts.

46 I will speak of thy testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed.

47 And I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved.

48 My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes.

In these lines we see some familiar expressions: the psalmist’s love for God’s law, even his delight in it; his trust in and hope for God’s Word (which shows that he believed it was fully the Word of God!); his commitment to keep the law completely; and his desire to meditate in the law. But there are also new elements which he adds in this section.

For one thing, notice how he opens this section: with another petition or prayer. Only this time it is specifically for God’s mercies, which he identifies with His salvation. Immediately then, as he starts this new section, he seeks the Lord’s saving mercies. And we may add, in Christ, since He is the only One in Whom God reveals His saving mercies. This tells us that the psalmist realizes he is a sinner who needs forgiveness for his sins against God’s law and a sinner who needs God’s saving grace to give him any and all desire and ability to keep God’s law. He can do nothing apart from God’s saving mercies in Christ.

That is a good place to begin for us too, isn’t it? Especially as we start this Lord’s Day thinking about coming into God’s holy presence as sinners. How are we going to come? The testimony of God’s perfect law is against us: we have broken not just a few of God’s commandments but ALL of them! And we may say that we love God’s law and are committed to keeping it, but where is our power to do so going to come from? Our puny wills?! Our determined spirits?! How shall we appear before God with our sin? Only by pleading for His mercies and salvation: “Let thy mercies come also unto me, O LORD, even thy salvation!” Look on me in Christ and pardon me! Look on me in Christ and sanctify me! As we start this day and prepare for worship, let us make this our opening plea.

For another thing, notice how the psalmist makes the connection between God’s law and liberty in v.45. As many Bible versions note, the Hebrew literally reads “in a broad (or wide, spacious) place”, and that is how we get the idea of liberty. When we walk in wide open spaces (such as a woods or field), we are free and feel free. But when we are in a tight or confined place, we are bound and feel like we have no freedom. In a similar way, God’s law is our wide open place to roam as God’s people. Staying within the “field” of God’s Word, we experience wonderful freedom – freedom to love and serve God. Fallen man, of course, thinks just the opposite. To him God’s law is a narrow place and His commandments confining. Freedom, to the depraved sinner, is being able to do what HE wants, where he wants, and when he wants, even if it is in direct violation of God’s holy Word. And, according to our own sinful nature, this is how we judge things too. But grace has changed our perspective and shown us true liberty – walking in God’s law. Following our own will and way is bondage; following God’s will and way is freedom. Let us remember this too today, and walk in the wide open space of keeping God’s sabbath day holy, resting in Him, and worshiping Him in spirit and in truth.

Finally, note in this section the element of suffering for God’s sake. The psalmist mentions again the reproach he is suffering for his commitment to God’s law, v.42 (see v.22 also). And in v.46 he speaks of giving testimony before kings, implying that he was called to give an account of his life before earthly rulers. This suffering is something that every believer must face, especially because of his faith in Christ and his desire to follow God’s will. Do we know anything of this reproach? But notice that this suffering does not diminish the psalmist’s commitment to God’s law. He will answer his reproachers according to God’s Word, because he trusts in it! And even when he stands before kings, he will boldly and unashamedly speak of God’s testimonies! What conviction and commitment! What explains this? God’s mercies and His salvation. That’s the only thing. For us too. Which is why we must start every day with that petition: “Let thy mercies come also unto me, O Lord.” Shall we do that today? Right now?

If you wish to meditate on this stanza of Psalm 119 through the music of the Psalter (Eerdmans, c.1927) you may do so by clicking on the title to the versification and arrangement below.

326.  Promised Mercies.   Psalm 119.  C.M. (4 stanzas)

1. Thy promised mercies send to me,
Thy great salvation, Lord;
So shall I answer those who scoff;
My trust is in Thy word.

2. My hope is in Thy judgment, Lord;
Take not Thy truth from me,
And in Thy law forevermore
My daily walk shall be.

3. And I will walk at liberty
Because Thy truth I seek;
Thy truth before the kings of earth
With boldness I will speak.

4. The Lord’s commands, which I have loved,
Shall still new joy impart;
With reverence I will hear Thy laws
And keep them in my heart.