Verse 9. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding. Understanding separates man from a brute -- let us not act as if we were devoid of it. Men should take counsel and advice, and be ready to run where wisdom points them the way. Alas! we need to be cautioned against stupidity of heart, for we are very apt to fall into it. We who ought to be as the angels, readily become as the beasts. Whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee. It is much to be deplored that we so often need to be severely chastened before we will obey. We ought to be as a feather in the wind, wafted readily in the breath of the Holy Spirit, but alas! we lie like motionless logs, and stir not with heaven itself in view. Those cutting bits of affliction show how hard mouthed we are, those bridles of infirmity manifest our headstrong and wilful manners. We should not be treated like mules if there was not so much of the ass about us. If we will be fractious, we must expect to be kept in with a tight rein. Oh, for grace to obey the Lord willingly, lest like the wilful servant, we are beaten with many stripes. Calvin renders the last words, "Lest they kick against thee," a version more probable and more natural, but the passage is confessedly obscure -- not however, in its general sense.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 9. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, etc. How many run mad of this cause, inordinate and furious lusts! The prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah 2:24 , compares Israel to "a swift dromedary, traversing her ways," and to "a wild ass used to the wilderness, that snuffeth up the wind at her pleasure." Be ye not, said the psalmographer, "as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle." Men have understanding, not beasts; yet when the frenzy of lust overwhelms their senses, we may take up the word of the prophet and pour it on them: "Every man is a beast by his own knowledge." And therefore "man that is in honour and understandeth not, is like unto beasts that perish" Psalms 49:20 . Did not the bridle of God's overruling providence restrain their madness, they would cast off the saddle of reason, and kick nature itself in the face. Thomas Adams.
Verse 9. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, etc. According to the several natures of these two beasts, the fathers and other expositors have made several interpretations; at least, several allusions. They consider the horse and the mule to admit any rider, any burden, without discretion or difference, without debate or consideration; they never ask whether their rider be noble or base, nor whether their load be gold for the treasure, or roots for the market. And those expositors find the same indifference in an habitual sinner to any kind of sin; whether he sin for pleasure, or sin for profit, or sin but for company, still he sins. They consider in the mule, that one of his parents being more ignoble than the other, he is like the worst, he hath more of the ass than of the horse in him; and they find in us, that all our actions and thoughts taste more of the more ignoble part of the earth than of heaven. St. Hierome thinks fierceness and rashness to be presented in the horse, and sloth in the mule. And St. Augustine carries these two qualities far; he thinks that in this fierceness of the horse the Gentiles are represented, which ran far from the knowledge of Christianity; and by the laziness of the mule the Jews, who came nothing so fast, as they were invited by their former helps to the embracing thereof. They have gone far in these allusions and applications; and they might have gone as far further as it had pleased them; they have sea room enough, that will compare a beast and a sinner together; and they shall find many times, in the way, the beast the better man. John Donne.
Verse 9. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, etc. Consider the causes why a broken leg is incurable in a horse, and easily curable in a man. The horse is incapable of counsel to submit himself to the farrier; and therefore in case his leg be set he flings, flounces, and flies out, unjointing it again by his misemployed mettle, counting all binding to be shackles and fetters unto him: whereas a man willingly resigns himself to be ordered by the surgeon, preferring rather to be a prisoner for some days, than a cripple all his life. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding; but "let patience have its perfect work in thee." James 1:4 . Thomas Fuller.
Verse 9. Bit and bridle (!srwntk) The LXX render the first of these two words by calinw, the second by kemw. The word calinos signifies the iron of the common bridle, which is put into the horse's mouth, the bit, or curb. But kemoz was something like a muzzle, which was put upon mischievous horses or mules to keep them from biting. Xenephon says, that it allowed them to breathe, but kept the mouth shut, so that they could not bite. Not knowing the term of art for this contrivance, I call it a muzzle. The verb (brq) is a military term, and signifies to advance, as an enemy, to attack. The "coming near," therefore, intended here, is a coming near to do mischief. The admonition given by the psalmist to his companions, is to submit to the instruction and guidance graciously promised from heaven, and not to resemble, in a refractory disposition, those ill conditioned colts which are not to be governed by a simple bridle; but, unless their jaws are confined by a muzzle, will attack the rider as he attempts to mount, or the groom as he leads them to the pasture and the stable. Samuel Horsley.
Verse 9. Lest they come near unto thee. The common version of this clause would be suitable enough in speaking of a wild beast, but in reference to a mule or a horse the words can only mean, because they will not follow or obey thee of their own accord; they must be constantly coerced, in the way both of compulsion and restraint. J. A. Alexander.
Verse 9. "Be ye not like a horse or mule, which have no understanding, and whose ornament is a bridle and bit, to hold them: they do not come unto thee of themselves." Charles Carter, in "The Book of Psalms." 1869. A new Translation.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 9. God's bits and bridles, the mules who need them, and reasons why we ought not to be of the number.
Verse 9. How far in our actions we are better, and how far worse than horses and mules.