It is supposed that David penned this psalm in Saul's reign,
when there was a general decay of honesty and piety both in court and country,
which he here complains of to God, and very feelingly, for he himself suffered
by the treachery of his false friends and the insolence of his sworn enemies. I.
He begs help of God, because there were none among men whom he durst trust (v.
1, 2). II. He foretels the destruction of his proud and threatening enemies (v.
3, 4). III. He assures himself and others that, how ill soever things went now
(v. 8), God would preserve and secure to himself his own people (v. 5, 7), and
would certainly make good his promises to them (v. 6). Whether this psalm was
penned in Saul's reign or no, it is certainly calculated for a bad reign; and
perhaps David, in spirit foresaw that some of his successors would bring things
to as bad a pass as is here described, and treasured up this psalm for the use
of the church then. "O tempora, O mores!Oh the times! Oh the manners!"
To the chief musician upon Sheminith. A psalm of David.
This psalm furnishes us with good thoughts for bad times, in
which, though the prudent will keep silent (Amos 5:13) because a man may then be
made an offender for a word, yet we may comfort ourselves with such suitable
meditations and prayers as are here got ready to our hand.
I. Let us see here what it is that makes the times bad, and when
they may be said to be so. Ask the children of this world what it is in their
account that makes the times bad, and they will tell you, Scarcity of money,
decay of trade, and the desolations of war, make the times bad. But the
scripture lays the badness of the times upon causes of another nature. 2 Tim.
3:1, Perilous times shall come, for iniquity shall abound; and that is
the thing David here complains of.
1. When there is a general decay of piety and honesty among men
the times are then truly bad (v. 1): When the godly man ceases and the
faithful fail. Observe how these two characters are here put together, the
godly and the faithful. As there is no true policy, so there is no true piety,
without honesty. Godly men are faithful men, fast men, so they have
sometimes been called; their word is as confirming as their oath, as binding as
their bond; they make conscience of being true both to God and man. They are
here said to cease and fail, either by death or by desertion, or by both. Those
that were godly and faithful were taken away, and those that were left had sadly
degenerated and were not what they had been; so that there were few or no good
people that were Israelites indeed to be met with. Perhaps he meant that there
were no godly faithful men among Saul's courtiers; if he meant there were few
or none in Israel, we hope he was under the same mistake that Elijah was, who
thought he only was left alone, when God had 7000 who kept their integrity (Rom.
11:3); or he meant that there were few in comparison; there was a general decay
of religion and virtue (and the times are bad, very bad, when it is so), not a
man to be found that executes judgment, Jer. 5:1.
2. When dissimulation and flattery have corrupted and debauched
all conversation, then the times are very bad (v. 2), when men are generally so
profligate that they make no conscience of a lie, are so spiteful as to design
against their neighbours the worst of mischiefs, and yet so base as to cover the
design with the most specious and plausible pretences and professions of
friendship. Thus they speak vanity (that is, falsehood and a lie) every
one to his neighbour, with flattering lips and a double heart. They will
kiss and kill (as Joab did Abner and Amasa in David's own time), will smile in
your face and cut your throat. This is the devil's image complete, a
complication of malice and falsehood. The times are bad indeed when there is no
such thing as sincerity to be met with, when an honest man knows not whom to
believe nor whom to trust, nor dares put confidence in a friend, in a guide, Mic.
7:5, 6; Jer. 9:4, 5. Woe to those who help to make the times thus perilous.
3. When the enemies of God, and religion, and religious people,
are impudent and daring, and threaten to run down all that is just and sacred,
then the times are very bad, when proud sinners have arrived at such a pitch of
impiety as to say, "With our tongue will we prevail against the
cause of virtue; our lips are our own and we may say what we will; who
is lord over us, either to restrain us or to call us to an account?" v.
4. This bespeaks, (1.) A proud conceit of themselves and confidence in
themselves, as if the point were indeed gained by eating forbidden fruit, and
they were as gods, independent and self-sufficient, infallible in their
knowledge of good and evil and therefore fit to be oracles, irresistible in
their power and therefore fit to be lawgivers, that could prevail with their
tongues, and, like God himself, speak and it is done. (2.) An insolent contempt
of God's dominion as if he had no propriety in themOur lips are our own
(an unjust pretension, for who made man's mouth, in whose hand is his breath,
and whose is the air he breathes in?) and as if he had no authority either to
command them or to judge them: Who is Lord over us? Like Pharaoh, Ex.
5:1. This is as absurd and unreasonable as the former; for he in whom we live,
and move, and have our being, must needs be, by an indisputable title, Lord over
4. When the poor and needy are oppressed, and abused, and puffed
at, then the times are very bad. This is implied (v. 5) where God himself takes
notice of the oppression of the poor and the sighing of the needy;
they are oppressed because they are poor, have all manner of wrong done them
merely because they are not in a capacity to right themselves. Being thus
oppressed, they dare not speak for themselves, lest their defence should be made
their offence; but they sigh, secretly bemoaning their calamities, and pouring
out their souls in sighs before God. If their oppressors be spoken to on their
behalf, they puff at them, make light of their own sin and the misery of the
poor, and lay neither to heart; see Ps. 10:5.
5. When wickedness abounds, and goes barefaced, under the
protection and countenance of those in authority, then the times are very bad,
v. 8. When the vilest men are exalted to places of trust and power (who,
instead of putting the laws in execution against vice and injustice and
punishing the wicked according to their merits, patronise and protect them, give
them countenance, and support their reputation by their own example), then the
wicked walk on every side; they swarm in all places, and go up and down
seeking to deceive, debauch, and destroy others; they are neither afraid nor
ashamed to discover themselves; they declare their sin as Sodom and there is
none to check or control them. Bad men are base men, the vilest of men, and they
are so though they are ever so highly exalted in this world. Antiochus the
illustrious the scripture calls a vile person, Dan. 11:21. But it is bad
with a kingdom when such are preferred; no marvel if wickedness then grows
impudent and insolent. When the wicked bear rule the people mourn.
II. Let us now see what good thoughts we are here furnished with
for such bad times; and what times we may yet be reserved for we cannot tell.
When times are thus bad it is comfortable to think,
1. That we have a God to go to, from whom we may ask and expect
the redress of all our grievances. This he begins with (v. 1): "Help,
Lord, for the godly man ceaseth. All other helps and helpers fail; even the
godly and faithful, who should lend a helping hand to support the dying cause of
religion, are gone, and therefore whither shall we seek but to thee?" Note,
When godly faithful people cease and fail it is time to cry, Help, Lord!
The abounding of iniquity threatens a deluge. "Help, Lord, help the
virtuous; few seek to hold fast their integrity, and to stand in the gap; help
to save thy own interest in the world from sinking. It is time for thee,
Lord, to work."
2. That God will certainly reckon with false and proud men, and
will punish and restrain their insolence. They are above the control of men and
set them at defiance. Men cannot discover the falsehood of flatterers, nor
humble the haughtiness of those that speak proud things; but the righteous God
will cut off all flattering lips, that give the traitor's kiss and
speak words softer then oil when war is in the heart; he will pluck out the
tongue that speaks proud things against God and religion, v. 3. Some
translate it as a prayer, "May God cut off those false and spiteful lips."
Let lying lips be put to silence.
3. That God will, in due time, work deliverance for his
oppressed people, and shelter them from the malicious designs of their
persecutors (v. 5): Now, will I arise, saith the Lord. This promise of
God, which David here delivered by the spirit of prophecy, is an answer to that
petition which he put up to God by the spirit of prayer. "Help, Lord,"
says he; "I will," says God; "here I am, with seasonable and
effectual help." (1.) It is seasonable, in the fittest time. [1.] When the
oppressors are in the height of their pride and insolencewhen they say, Who
is lord over us?then is God's time to let them know, to their cost,
that he is above them. [2.] When the oppressed are in the depth of their
distress and despondency, when they are sighing like Israel in Egypt by reason
of the cruel bondage, then is God's time to appear for them, as for Israel
when they were most dejected and Pharaoh was most elevated. Now will I arise.
Note, There is a time fixed for the rescue of oppressed innocency; that time
will come, and we may be sure it is the fittest time, Ps. 102:13. (2.) It is
effectual: I will set him in safety, or in salvation, not only protect
him, but restore him to his former prosperity, will bring him out into a
wealthy place (Ps. 66:12), so that, upon the whole, he shall lose nothing by
4. That, though men are false, God is faithful; though they are
not to be trusted, God is. They speak vanity and flattery, but the words of
the Lord are pure words (v. 6), not only all true, but all pure, like silver
tried in a furnace of earth or a crucible. It denotes, (1.) The sincerity of God's
word, every thing is really as it is there represented and not otherwise; it
does not jest with us, not impose upon us, nor has it any other design towards
us than our own good. (2.) The preciousness of God's word; it is of great and
intrinsic value, like silver refined to the highest degree; it has nothing in it
to depreciate it. (3.) The many proofs that have been given of its power and
truth; it has been often tried, all the saints in all ages have trusted it and
so tried it, and it never deceived them nor frustrated their expectation, but
they have all set to their seal that God's word is true, with an Experto
credeTrust one that has made trial; they have found it so. Probably this
refers especially to these promises of succouring and relieving the poor and
oppressed. Their friends put them in hopes that they will do something for them,
and yet prove a broken reed; but the words of God are what we may rely upon; and
the less confidence is to be put in men's words let us with the more assurance
trust in God's word.
5. That God will secure his chosen remnant to himself, how bad
soever the times are (v. 7): Thou shalt preserve them from this generation
for ever. This intimates that, as long as the world stands, there will be a
generation of proud and wicked men in it, more or less, who will threaten by
their wretched arts to ruin religion, by wearing out the saints of the Most
High, Dan. 7:25. But let God alone to maintain his own interest and to
preserve his own people. He will keep them from this generation, (1.) From being
debauched by them and drawn away from God, from mingling with them and learning
their works. In times of general apostasy the Lord knows those that are his, and
they shall be enabled to keep their integrity. (2.) From being destroyed and
rooted out by them. The church is built upon a rock, and so well fortified that
the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. In the worst of times God has
his remnant, and in every age will reserve to himself a holy seed and preserve
that to his heavenly kingdom.
In singing this psalm, and praying it over, we must bewail the general
corruption of manners, thank God that things are not worse than they are, but
pray and hope that they will be better in God's due time.