Verse 38. But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not. Though they were full of flattery, he was full of mercy, and for this cause he had pity on them. Not because of their pitiful and hypocritical pretensions to penitence, but because of his own real compassion for them he overlooked their provocations.
Yea, many a time turned he his anger away. When he had grown angry with them he withdrew his displeasure. Even unto seventy times seven did he forgive their offences. He was slow, very slow, to anger. The sword was uplifted and flashed in midair, but it was sheathed again, and the nation yet lived. Though not mentioned in the text, we know from the history that a mediator interposed, the man Moses stood in the gap; even so at this hour the Lord Jesus pleads for sinners, and averts the divine wrath. Many a barren tree is left standing because the dresser of the vineyard cries, "let it alone this year also."
And did not stir up all his wrath. Had he done so they must have perished in a moment. When his wrath is kindled but a little men are burned up as chaff; but were he to let loose his indignation, the solid earth itself would melt, and hell would engulf every rebel. Who knoweth the power of thine anger, O Lord? We see the fulness of God's compassion, but we never see all his wrath.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 38. According to B. Kiddushin 30a, this verse is the middle one of the 5896 !yqymk, sticoi, of the Psalter. According to B. Maccoth 22b, Psalms 78:38 , and previously Deuteronomy 28:58-59 29:9, were recited when the forty strokes of the lash save one, which, according to 2 Corinthians 11:24 , Paul received five times, were being counted out to the culprit. Franz Delitzsch.
Verse 38. He, being full of compassion, etc. When his hand was up, and he giving the blow, he called it back again, as one that could not find it in his heart to do it; and when he did it, he did not stir up all his wrath; he let fall some drops of it, but would not shed the whole shower of it; and he giveth the reason of both, for they are but flesh; and, indeed, his primary scope is to show mercy; and that he afflicts is but upon occasions; and therefore he is provoked, and provoked much before he doth it. As it is natural for the bee to give honey, but it stings; but it stings but by occasion when it is provoked; and this we see to be true in God by experience, who suffers men, and suffers them long; they continue in their sins, and yet he continues in his mercies, and withholds his judgments. John Preston (1587-1628), in "The Golden Sceptre held forth to the Humble."
Verse 38. Forgave is a very inadequate translation of the Hebrew word, which necessarily suggests the idea of expiation as the ground of pardon. Joseph Addison Alexander.
Verse 38. Many a time turned he his anger away. God is provoked every day, yet is he slow to anger. Yea, sometimes when he has determined to bring evil upon a people, and has put himself into a posture of judgment, drawn out the sword, and smitten them; though they cease not to provoke him, he ceaseth to punish them; as a tender father in correcting a rebellious and graceless child, holds his hand sometimes, before the child begs for mercy, and of mere grace forbears: so God did with Israel. Notwithstanding their dissembling with their flattering tongues, and covenant breaking hearts, He forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up his wrath. The words are, He multiplied to turn away his anger: as they multiplied to provoke it, he multiplied to turn it away; and so at length outnumbered their sins with his mercies, that they were not destroyed. John Strickland, in "A Sermon preached before the House of Commons," entitled "Mercy rejoicing against Judgment." 1645.
Verse 38. He did not stir up all his wrath. His patience is manifest in moderating his judgments when he sends them. Doth he empty his quiver of his arrows, or exhaust his magazine of thunder? No; he could roll one thunderbolt successively upon all mankind; it is as easy with him to create a perpetual motion of lightning and thunder, as of the sun and stars, and make the world as terrible by the one as it is delightful by the other. He opens not all his store; he sends out a light party to skirmish with men, and puts not in array his whole army. He stirs not up all his wrath; he doth but pinch, where he might have torn asunder; when he takes away much, he leaves enough to support us. If he had stirred up all his anger, he had taken away all, and our lives to boot. He rakes up but a few sparks, takes but one firebrand to fling upon men, when he might discharge the whole furnace upon them; he sends but a few drops out of the cloud, which he might make to break in the gross, and fall down upon our heads to overwhelm us; he abates much of what he might do. Stephen Charnock.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 38. (last clause) and Psalms 78:50 (first clause). God's anger as exercised against his people and against his foes. C. D.