Verse 4. When we view the wicked simply as such, and not as our fellow men, our indignation against sin leads us entirely to coincide with the acts of divine justice which punish evil, and to wish that justice might use her power to restrain by her terrors the cruel and unjust; but still the desires of the present verse, as our version renders it, are not readily made consistent with the spirit of the Christian dispensation, which seeks rather the reformation than the punishment of sinners. If we view the words before us as prophetic, or as in the future tense, declaring a fact, we are probably nearer to the true meaning than that given in our version. Ungodly reader, what will be your lot when the Lord deals with you according to your desert, and weighs out to you his wrath, not only in proportion to what you have actually done, but according to what you would have done if you could. Our endeavours are taken as facts; God takes the will for the deed, and punishes or rewards accordingly. Not in this life, but certainly in the next, God will repay his enemies to their faces, and give them the wages of their sins. Not according to their fawning words, but after the measure of their mischievous deeds, will the Lord mete out vengeance to them that know him not.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 4. Give them according to their deeds, etc. Here, again, occurs the difficult question about praying for vengeance, which, however, I shall despatch in a few words. In the first place, then, it is unquestionable, that if the flesh move us to seek revenge, the desire is wicked in the sight of God. He not only forbids us to imprecate evil upon our enemies in revenge for private injuries, but it cannot be otherwise than that all those desires which spring from hatred must be disordered. David's example, therefore, must not be alleged by those who are driven by their own intemperate passion to seek vengeance. The holy prophet is not inflamed here by his own private sorrow to devote his enemies to destruction; but laying aside the desire of the flesh, he give judgment concerning the matter itself. Before a man can, therefore, denounce vengeance against the wicked, he must first shake himself free from all improper feelings in his own mind. In the second place, prudence must be exercised, that the heinousness of the evils which offend us drive us not to intemperate zeal, which happened even to Christ's disciples, when they desired that fire might be brought from heaven to consume those who refused to entertain their Master. Luke 9:54 . They pretended, it is true, to act according to the example of Elias, but Christ severely rebuked them, and told them that they knew not by what spirit they were actuated. In particular, we must observe this general rule, that we cordially desire and labour for the welfare of the whole human race. Thus it will come to pass, that we shall not only give way to the exercise of God's mercy, but shall also wish the conversion of those who seem obstinately to rush upon their own destruction. In short, David, being free from every evil passion, and likewise endued with the spirit of discretion and judgment, pleads here not so much his own cause as the cause of God. And by this prayer, he further reminds both himself and the faithful, that although the wicked may give themselves loose reins in the commission of every species of vice with impunity for a time, they must at length stand before the judgment seat of God. John Calvin.
Verse 4. Give them according to their deeds, and according to the wickedness of their endeavours. Yes, great God, since thou hast from the beginning been only occupied in saving men, thou wilt surely strike with an eternal malediction these children of iniquity who appear to have been born only to be lost themselves, and to destroy others. The very benevolence towards mankind solicits thy thunders against these corrupters of society. The more thou hast done for our race, the more surely will the severity of thy justice reveal itself in destroying the wretches whose only study is to counteract thy goodness towards mankind. They labour incessantly to put men far away from thee, O my God, and in return thou wilt put them far away from thee for ever. They count it great gain to make their fellows thine enemies, and they shall have the desperate consolation of being such themselves to all eternity. What more fitting punishment for the wretches who desire to make all hearts rebel against thine adorable Majesty, than to lie through the baseness of their nature, under the eternal and frightful necessity of hating thee for ever. Jean Baptiste Massillon, rendered very freely by C. H. S.
Verse 4. Give them according to their deeds. The Egyptians killed the Hebrew male children, and God smote the firstborn of Egypt. Sisera, who thought to destroy Israel with his iron chariots, was himself killed with an iron nail, stuck through his temples. Adonibezek, Judges 1:5-7 . Gideon slew forty elders of Succoth, and his sons were murdered by Abimelech. Abimelech slew seventy sons of Gideon upon one stone, and his own head was broken by a piece of millstone thrown by a woman. Samson fell by the "lust of the eye," and before death the Philistines put out his eyes. Agag, 1 Samuel 20:33 . Saul slew the Gibeonites, and seven of his sons were hung up before the Lord. 2 Samuel 21:1-9 . Ahab, after coveting Naboth's vineyard, 1 Kings 21:19 , fulfilled 2 Kings 9:24-26 . Jeroboam, the same hand that was stretched forth against the altar was withered, 1 Kings 13:1-6 . Joab having killed Abner, Amasa, and Absalom, was put to death by Solomon. Daniel's accusers thrown into the lion's den meant for Daniel. Haman hung upon the gallows designed for Mordecai. Judas purchased the field of blood, and then went and hanged himself. So in the history of later days, Bajazet was carried about by Tamerlane in an iron cage, as he intended to have carried Tamerlane. Mazentius built a bridge to entrap Constantine, and was overthrown himself of that very spot. Alexander
- was poisoned by the wine he had prepared for another. Charles
- made the streets of Paris to stream with Protestant blood, and soon after blood streamed from all parts of his body in a bloody sweat. Cardinal Beaton condemned George Wishart to death, and presently died a violent death himself. He was murdered in bed, and his body was laid out in the same window from which he had looked upon Wishart's execution. G. S. Bowes, in "Illustrative Gatherings."
Verse 4. Render to them their desert. Meditate on God's righteousness, that it is not only his will, but his nature to punish sin; sin must damn thee without Christ, there is not only a possibility or probability that sin may ruin, but without an interest in Christ it must do so; whet much upon thy heart that must; God cannot but hate sin, because he is holy; and he cannot but punish sin, because he is righteous. God must not forego his own nature to gratify our humours. Christopher Fowler, in "Morning Exercises," 1676.
Verse 4. He prayeth against his enemies, not out of any private revenge, but being led by the infallible spirit of prophecy, looking through these men to the enemies of Christ, and of his people in all ages. David Dickson.
Verse 4-5. In these verses, as indeed in most of the imprecatory passages, the imperative and the future are used promiscuously: Give them -- render them -- he shall destroy them. If therefore, the verbs, in all such passages, were uniformly rendered in the "future," every objection against the Scripture imprecations would vanish at once, and they would appear clearly to be what they are, namely, prophecies of the divine judgments, which have been since executed against the Jews, and which will be executed against all the enemies of Jehovah, and his Christ; whom neither the "works" of creation, nor those of redemption, can lead to repentance. George Horne.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 4. Measure for measure, or punishment proportioned to desert.
Verse 4. Endeavour the measure of sin rather than mere result. Hence some are guilty of sins which they were unable to commit.