Verse 5. They know not, neither will they understand. A wretched plight for a nation to be in when its justices know no justice, and its judges are devoid of judgment. Neither to know his duty nor to wish to know it is rather the mark of an incorrigible criminal than of a magistrate, yet such a stigma was justly set upon the rulers of Israel.
They walk on in darkness. They are as reckless as they are ignorant. Being both ignorant and wicked they yet dare to pursue a path in which knowledge and righteousness are essential: they go on without hesitation, forgetful of the responsibilities in which they are involved, and the punishment which they are incurring.
All the foundations of the earth are out of course. When the dispensers of law have dispensed with justice, settlements are unsettled, society is unhinged, the whole fabric of the nation is shaken. When injustice is committed in due course of law the world is indeed out of course. When "Justices' justice" becomes a byword it is time that justice dealt with justices. Surely it would be well that certain of "the great unpaid" should be paid off, when day after day their judgments show that they have no judgment. When peasants may be horsewhipped by farmers with impunity, and a pretty bird is thought more precious than poor men, the foundations of the earth are indeed sinking like rotten piles unable to bear up the structures built upon them. Thank God we have, as an almost invariable rule, incorruptible judges; may it always be so. Even our lesser magistrates are, in general, most worthy men; for which we ought to be grateful to God evermore.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Whole Psalm. Asaph, who has written so much in the previous Psalms of the coming of Christ in the flesh, now speaks of his second coming to judgment. Josephus Maria Thomasius. 1649-1713.
Verse 5. They know not, neither will they understand, etc. Every judge must have in him (as Baldus actually said) two kinds of salt; the first is sal scientiae, that he may know his duty; the second is sal conscientiae, that he may do his duty. Such as fail in the first, are censured here with a nescierunt, and non intellexerunt; such as fall in the second, are branded here with an ambulant in tenebris. The dangers upon this neglect of these duties are two: the one concerning the whole commonwealth, All the foundations of the earth are out of course; the other especially touching the private persons of the judges, at the seventh verse, Ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes, and after death comes judgment, Psalms 82:8 : Arise, O God, judge the earth. Almighty God "standeth in the congregation of princes, and is a judge among gods;" he sits Chief Justice in every session and assize, to mark what matters pass, and how they pass, ready to judge those righteously, who judge others unjustly, "giving wrong judgment, and accepting the persons of the wicked." Psalms 67:4 pros to krithrion tou qeou. Thus I have made the way plain before you; God infinitely rich in mercy grant, that both I in speaking, and you in hearing, may walk therein (as the blessed Apostle phraseth it, Galatians 2:14 ) "with a right foot." They know not, neither will they understand. That is, they neither know God, who made them gods; nor yet understand his law, which is a lantern to their feet, and a light to their paths. Or, as Placidus Parmensis upon the place, -- They neither consider how they that be called gods, as commissioners and ministers of God, ought to judge others; nor yet remember how they shall be judged themselves at the last day, when "all the foundations of the world shall be moved," and God himself shall "arise to judge the earth." Or, they be so corrupt and abominable, that they will neither learn what is their office from others, nor yet understand it by themselves. Or briefly, to give that gloss (which fits best I think the text, I am sure the time), Nescierunt quid facti, non intelexerunt quid juris; they were both ignorant in the matter of fact, as not searching out the cause; and ignorant in the matter of law, sitting (as Paul said of Ananias) to give judgment according to the law, and yet commanding that which is contrary to the law. The first concerns a good deal the jury, the second a great deal the judges; in both are condemned, as the nurses of all confusions in a commonwealth, ignorantia simplex, and affectata; simple ignorance, when as they be so shallow that they cannot; affected ignorance, when as they be so deep, that they will not understand what is right and reason. John Boys, in "The Judge's Charge," 1618.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
- The characters of wicked princes.
- Ignorance: They know not.
- Wilful blindness: Neither will they, etc.
- Unrestrained perverseness: They walk on, etc.
- The consequences to others: All the foundations, etc.
- Of personal security.
- Of social comfort.
- Of commercial prosperity.
- Of national tranquillity.
- Of religious liberty; all are out of course. G. R.
Verse 5. (middle clause). A description of the pilgrimage of presumptuous sinners.