Psalm 119:37

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 37. Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity. He had prayed about his heart, and one would have thought that the eyes would so surely have been influenced by the heart that there was no need to make them the objects of a special petition; but our author is resolved to make assurance doubly sure. If the eyes do not see, perhaps the heart may not desire: at any rate, one door of temptation is closed when we do not even look at the painted bauble. Sin first entered man's mind by the eye, and it is still a favourite gate for the incoming of Satan's allurements: hence the need of a double watch upon that portal. The prayer is not so much that the eyes may be shut as "turned away"; for we need to have them open, but directed to right objects. Perhaps we are now gazing upon folly, we need to have our eyes turned away; and if we are beholding heavenly things we shall be wise to beg that our eyes may be kept away from vanity. Why should we look on vanity? -- it melts away as a vapour. Why not look upon things eternal? Sin is vanity, unjust gain is vanity, self conceit is vanity, and, indeed, all that is not of God comes under the same head. From all this we must turn away. It is a proof of the sense of weakness felt by the Psalmist and of his entire dependence upon God that he even asks to have his eyes turned for him; he meant not to make himself passive, but he intended to set forth his own utter helplessness apart from the grace of God. For fear he should forget himself and gaze with a lingering longing upon forbidden objects, he entreats the Lord speedily to make him turn away his eyes, hurrying him off from so dangerous a parley with iniquity. If we are kept from looking on vanity we shall be preserved from loving iniquity.

And quicken thou me in thy way. Give me so much life that dead vanity may have no power over me. Enable me to travel so swiftly in the road to heaven that I may not stop long enough within sight of vanity to be fascinated thereby. The prayer indicates our greatest need, -- more life in our obedience. It shows the preserving power of increased life to keep us from the evils which are around us, and it, also, tells us where that increased life must come from, namely, from the Lord alone. Vitality is the cure of vanity. When the heart is full of grace the eyes will be cleansed from impurity. On the other hand, if we would be full of life as to the things of God we must keep ourselves apart from sin and folly, or the eyes will soon captivate the mind, and, like Samson, who could slay his thousands, we may ourselves be overcome through the lusts which enter by the eye.

This verse is parallel to Psalms 119:21 Psalms 119:29 in the previous eights: "rebuke," "remove," "turn away"; or "proud," "lying," "vanity."

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 37. Turn away mine eyes, etc. Literally, "Make mine eyes to pass from seeing vanity;" as though he would pray, Whatever is of vanity, make me to pass without seeing it. The sentiment is strikingly like that in our Lord's prayer: "Lead us not into temptation." Having prayed for what he wanted to see, the Psalmist here prays for the hiding of what he would not see.

Verse 37. Turn away mine eyes, etc. Having prayed for his heart, he now prayeth for his eyes also. Omnia a Deo petit, docens, illum omnia efficere. By the eyes oftentimes, as by windows, death enters into the heart; therefore to keep the heart in a good estate three things are requisite, First, careful study of the senses, specially of the eyes; for it is a righteous working of the Lord, ut qui exteriori oculo negligenter utitur, intertori non injuste caecetur that he who negligently useth the external eye of his body, should punished with blindness in the internal eye of his mind. And for this cause Nazianzen, deploring the calamities of his soul, wished that a door might set before his eyes and ears, to close them when they opened to anything that is not good; malis autem sua sponte uturumque clauderetur. The second thing is, a subduing of the body by discipline. And the third is, continuance in prayer. William Cowper.

Verse 37. Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity. Notice that he does not say, I will turn away mine eyes; but, "Turn away mine eyes." This shows that it is not possible for us sufficiently to keep our by our own caution and diligence; but there must be divine keeping. For, first, wheresoever in this world you turn yourself provocations to are met with. Secondly, with the unwary, and with far different the persons, the eyes, the servants of a corrupt heart, wander after the things which are the vanities. Thirdly, before you are aware, the evil contracted through eyes creeps in to the inmost recesses of the heart, and casts in the seeds perdition. This the Psalmist himself had experienced, not without greatest trouble both of heart and condition. Wolfgang Musculus, 1563.

Verse 37. Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity. It may seem strange prayer of David, to say, "Turn away mine eyes from seeing vanity;" as though God meddled with our looking; or that we had not power in selves to cast our eyes upon what objects we list. But is it not, that we delight in, we delight to look upon? and what we love, we love to seeing? and so to pray to God, that our eyes may not see vanity; is as much as to pray for grace, that we be not in love with vanity. For, vanity hath of itself so graceful an aspect, that it is not for a natural man to leave looking upon it; unless the fairer aspect of God's grace draw our eyes from vanity, to look upon itself; which will always naturally looking upon the fairest. And as David here makes his prayer in the particular, against temptations of prosperity, so Christ teacheth us to make prayer in the general, against the temptations, both of prosperity adversity, and very justly. For many can bear the temptations of one who are quickly overcome by temptations of the other kind. So David could bear persecution without murmuring, but when he came to prosperity could not turn away his eyes from vanity. Sir Richard Baker.

Verse 37. Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity. An ugly object loses much of its deformity when we look often upon it. Sin follows the general law, and is to be avoided altogether, even in its contemplation, we would be safe. A man should be thankful in this world that he eyelids; and as he can close his eyes, so he should often do it. Albert Barnes.

Verse 37. Turn away, then quicken, etc. The first request is for the removing the impediments of obedience, the other for the addition of new degrees of grace. These two are fitly joined, for they have a natural influence upon one another; unless we turn away our eyes from vanity, we shall soon contract deadness of heart. Nothing causeth it so much as an inordinate liberty in carnal vanities; when our affections are alive to other things, they are dead to God, therefore the less we let loose our hearts to these things, the more lively and cheerful in the work of obedience. On the other side, the more the rigour of grace is renewed, and the habits of it quickened into actual exercise, the more is sin mortified and subdued. Sin dieth, and our senses are restored to their proper use. Thomas Manton.

Verse 37. Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity. That sin may be avoided we must avoid whatsoever leads to or occasions it. As this caused Job ( Job 31:1 ) to covenant strongly with his eyes, so it caused David to pray earnestly about his eyes. "Turn away mine eyes (or as the Hebrew may be rendered, make them to pass), from beholding vanity." The eye is apt to make a stand, or fix itself, when we come in view of an ensnaring object; therefore it is our duty to hasten it away, or to pray that God would make it pass off from it... He that feareth burning must take heed of playing with fire: he that feareth drowning must keep out of deep waters. He that feareth the plague must not go into an infected house. Would they avoid sin who present themselves to the opportunities of it? Joseph Caryl.

Verse 37. Turn away mine eyes. Lest looking cause liking and lusting: 1 John 2:16 . In Hebrew the same word signifieth both an eye and a fountain; to show that from the eye, as from a fountain, floweth much mischief; and by that window Satan often winds himself into the soul. This David found by experience, and therefore prays here, "Turn away," transfer, make to pass "mine eyes," etc. He knew the danger of irregular glancing and inordinate gazing. John Trapp.

Verse 37. Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity. It is a most dangerous experiment for a child of God to place himself within the sphere of seductive temptations. Every feeling of duty, every recollection of his own weakness, every remembrance of the failure of others, should induce him to hasten to the greatest possible distance from the scene of unnecessary conflict and danger. John Morison.

Verse 37. Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity. From gazing at the delusive mirages which tempt the pilgrim to leave the safe highway. William Kay.

Verse 37. Is it asked -- "What will most effectually turn my eyes from vanity?" Not the seclusion of contemplative retirement -- not the relinquishment of our lawful connexion with the world -- but the transcendent beauty of Jesus unveiled to our eyes, and fixing our hearts. Charles Bridges.

Verse 37. Turn away mine eyes, etc. The fort royal of your souls is in danger of a surprise while the outworks of your senses are unguarded. Your eyes, which may be floodgates to pour out tears, should not be casements to let in lusts. A careless eye is an index to a graceless heart. Remember, the whole world died by a wound in the eye. The eyes of a Christian should be like sunflowers, which are opened to no blaze but that of the sun. William Seeker, 1660.

Verse 37. Vanity, in Hebrew usage, has often special reference to idols and the accompaniments of idol worship. The Psalmist prays that he may never be permitted even to see such tempting objects. Henry Cowles.

Verse 37. Quicken thou me. Every saint is very apt to be a sluggard in the way and work of God. "Quicken me," says one of the chiefest and choicest of saints, "in thy way"; and it is as much as if he should say in plain terms, "Ah, Lord! I am a dull jade, and have often need of thy spur, thy Spirit." This prayer of David seems proof enough to this point; but if you desire farther confirmation, I shall produce an argument instar omnium, "that none shall dare to deny, nor be able to disapprove"; and that is drawn from the topic of your own experience; and this is argumentum lugubre, like a funeral anthem, "very sad and sorrowful." Do you not feel and find, to the grief of your own souls, that, whereas you should weep as if you wept not, rejoice as if you rejoiced not, and buy as if you possessed not; inverso ordine, "inverting this order," you weep for losses as if you would weep out your eyes; you rejoice in temporal comforts as if you were in heaven; and you buy as if it were for ever and a day ( Psalms 49:11 ). But e contrario, "on the contrary," you pray as if you prayed not; hear as if you heard not; work for God as' if you worked not. Now, we know, experto credas, ("You may yield credence to that of which you have made trial.") a man that sticks fast in a ditch needs no reason to prove he is in, but remedies to pull him out. Your best course will be to propose the case how you may get rid of this unwelcome guest, spiritual sloth: it is a case we are all concerned in, Asini aures quis non habet ("where is the man who hath not the ears of an ass?") Every man and mortal hath some of the ass's dulness and sloth in him. Simmons, in "The Morning Exercises," 1661.

Verse 37. Quicken thou me. Another quickening ordinance is prayer. How often doth David pray for quickening grace? five or six times in one Psalm. He begins many a prayer with a heavy heart, and before he hath done he is full of life. Therefore, pray much, because all life is from God, and he quickens whom he will. Only let me add this caution, before I let this pass, -- Be sure thy understanding and affection go along together in every ordinance, and in every part of the ordinance, as thou wouldst have it a quickening ordinance. Matthew Lawrence, in "The Use and Practice of Faith," 1657.

Verse 37. Thy way, by way of emphasis, in opposition to and exaltation of, above, all other ways. There is a fourfold way:

  1. Via mundi, the way of the world; and that is spinosa, thorny.
  2. Via carnis, the way of the flesh; and that is insidiosa, treacherous.
  3. Via Satana, the way of the devil; and that is tenebricosa, darksome.
  4. Via Domini, the way of God; and that is gratiosa, gracious. Simmons.

Verse 37-38. Prayer is nothing but the promise reversed, or God's word formed into an argument, and retorted by faith upon God again. Know, Christian, thou hast law on thy side. Bills and bonds must be paid. David prays against the sins of a wanton eve and a dead heart: Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way; and see how he urges his argument in the next words, -- Stablish thy word unto thy servant. A good man is as good as his word, and will not a good God be so? But where finds David such a word for help against these sins? Surely in the covenant. It is in the magna charta. The first promise held forth thus much, -- "The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head." William Gumall.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 37. -- Quicken thou me in thy way. This brief prayer --

  1. Deals with the believer's frequent need.
  2. It directs us to the sole worker of quickening: "Thou."
  3. It describes the sphere of renewed rigour: "in thy way."
  4. It denotes that there may be special reasons and special seasons for this prayer -- times of temptation: Psalms 119:37 ; seasons of affliction: Psalms 119:107 ; when called to some extraordinary service. See "Spurgeon's Sermons," No. 1073: "A Honeycomb."

Verse 37. -- Here is,

  1. Conversion from "vanity."
  2. Conversion to -- "thy way."
  3. Conversion by -- "Quicken thou me." --G. R.

Verse 37. -- David prays,

  1. For restraining grace that he might be prevented and kept back from that which would hinder him in the way of his duty: "Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity."
  2. For constraining grace, that he might not only be kept from everything that would obstruct his progress heavenward, but that he might have that grace which was necessary to forward him in that progress: "Quicken thou me in thy way." --M. Henry.