2. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast founded thy strength, because of thy adversaries, that thou mightest put to flight the enemy and avenger.
He now enters upon the proof of the subject which he had undertaken to discourse upon,1 declaring, that the providence of God, in order to make itself known to mankind, does not wait till men arrive at the age of maturity, but even from the very dawn of infancy shines forth so brightly as is sufficient to confute all the ungodly, who, through their profane contempt of God, would wish to extinguish his very name.2
The opinion of some, who think that ypm, mephi, out of the mouth, signifies ypk, kephi, in the mouth, cannot be admitted, because it improperly weakens the emphasis which David meant to give to his language and discourse. The meaning, therefore, is, that God, in order to commend his providence, has no need of the powerful eloquence of rhetoricians,3 nor even of distinct and formed language, because the tongues of infants, although they do not as yet speak, are ready and eloquent enough to celebrate it. But it may be asked, In what sense does he speak of children as the proclaimers of the glory of God? In my judgment, those reason very foolishly who think that this is done when children begin to articulate, because then also the intellectual faculty of the soul shows itself. Granting that they are called babes, or infants, even until they arrive at their seventh year, how can such persons imagine that those who now speak distinctly are still hanging on the breast? Nor is there any more propriety in the opinion of those who say, that the words for babes and sucklings are here put allegorically for the faithful, who, being born again by the Spirit of God, no longer retain the old age of the flesh. What need, then, is there to wrest the words of David, when their true meaning is so clear and suitable? He says that babes and sucklings are advocates sufficiently powerful to vindicate the providence of God. Why does he not entrust this business to men, but to show that the tongues of infants, even before they are able to pronounce a single word, speak loudly and distinctly in commendation of God's liberality towards the human race? Whence is it that nourishment is ready for them as soon as they are born, but because God wonderfully changes blood into milk? Whence, also, have they the skill to suck, but because the same God has, by a mysterious instinct, fitted their tongues for doing this? David, therefore, has the best reason for declaring, that although the tongues of all, who have arrived at the age of manhood, should become silent, the speechless mouth of infants is sufficiently able to celebrate the praise of God. And when he not only introduces babes as witnesses and preachers of God's glory, but also attributes mature strength to their mouth, the expression is very emphatic. It means the same thing as if he had said, These are invincible champions of God who, when it comes to the conflict, can easily scatter and discomfit the whole host of the wicked despisers of God, and those who have abandoned themselves to impiety. 4 We should observe against whom he imposes upon infants the office of defending the glory of God, namely, against the hardened despisers of God, who dare to rise up against heaven to make war upon God, as the poets have said, in olden time, of the giants. 5
Since, therefore, these monsters,6 with furious violence, pluck up by the roots, and overthrow whatever godliness and the fear of God7 there is in the world, and through their hardihood endeavor to do violence to heaven itself, David in mockery of them brings into the field of battle against them the mouths of infants, which he says are furnished with armor of sufficient strength, and endued with sufficient fortitude, to lay their intolerable pride 8 in the dust. He, therefore, immediately subjoins, On account of the adversaries. God is not under the necessity of making war with great power to overcome the faithful, who willingly hearken to his voice, and manifest a ready obedience, as soon as he gives the smallest intimation of his will. The providence of God, I confess, shines forth principally for the sake of the faithful, because they only have eyes to behold it. But as they show themselves willing to receive instruction, God teaches them with gentleness; while, on the other hand, he arms himself against his enemies, who never submit themselves to him but by constraint. Some take the word founded as meaning, that, in the very birth or generation of man, God lays foundations for manifesting his own glory. But this sense is too restricted. I have no doubt that the word is put for to establish, as if the prophet had said, God needs not strong military forces to destroy the ungodly; instead of these, the mouths of children are sufficient for his purpose.9
To put to flight. Interpreters differ with respect to the word tybsh, hashebith. It properly signifies, to cause to cease; for it is in the conjugation Hiphil of the neuter verb tbs, shabath, which signifies to cease. But it is often taken metaphorically for to destroy, or to reduce to nothing, because destruction or death brings to an end. Others translate it, that thou mayest restrain, as if David meant that they were put to silence, so that they desisted from cursing or reviling God. As, however, there is here a beautiful allusion to a hostile combat, as I have a little before explained, I have preferred the military phrase, to put to flight. But it is asked, How does God put to flight his enemies, who, by their impious slanders and detractions, do not cease to strike at, and violently to rush forward to oppose all the proofs of a Divine Providence which daily manifest themselves?10 I answer, They are not routed or overthrown in respect of their being compelled to become more humble and unassuming; but because, with all their blasphemies and canine barkings, they continue in the state of abasement and confusion to which they have been brought. To express the whole in a few words:so early as the generation or birth of man the splendor of Divine Providence is so apparent, that even infants, who hang upon their mothers' breasts, can bring down to the ground the fury of the enemies of God. Although his enemies may do their utmost, and may even burst with rage a hundred times, it is in vain for them to endeavor to overthrow the strength which manifests itself in the weakness of infancy. A desire of revenge reigns in all unbelievers, while, on the other hand, God governs his own children by the spirit of meekness and benignity:11 but, according to the scope of the present passage, the prophet applies this epithet, the avenger, to the despisers of God, who are not only cruel towards man, but who also burn with frantic rage to make war even against God himself.
I have now discharged the duty of a faithful interpreter in opening up the mind of the prophet. There is only one difficulty remaining, which is this, that Christ (Matthew 21:16) seems to put upon this passage a different meaning, when he applies it to children ten years old. But this difficulty is easily removed. Christ reasons from the greater to the less in this manner; If God has appointed children even in infancy the vindicators of his glory, there is no absurdity in his making them the instruments of showing forth his praise by their tongues after they have arrived at the age of seven years and upwards.