16. Among perfidious jesters at feasts, they gnash upon me with their teeth. 17. O Lord!1 how long wilt thou look on? deliver my soul from their tumults, and my only one2 from the lions. 18. I will magnify thee in the great congregation:3 I will praise thee before a great people.4
16. Among perfidious jesters. Others translate it, With hypocrites, but in my opinion David simply relates the combination of his enemies. And the meaning of the expression is to this effect, That among men of a crafty disposition, who had been addicted to deceit, and were consequently lost to all sense of shame, the only and the constant subject of their deliberations was, how they might destroy this afflicted man. David again reverts to the leaders of the people, and to those in power, as the source whence all the mischief took its rise; for this description could not apply to a great part of the common people, who acted rather by thoughtless impulse. He therefore speaks particularly of the rulers, and others of a similar character, and accuses them of cruelty, saying, that they gnash their teeth upon him like furious wild beasts. He first calls them perfidious or wicked, that he may the more easily obtain help and aid of God, as if calling upon him in the extremity of distress; and, secondly, he calls them jesters or mockers, by which he means that they have such effrontery, and are so far lost to all sense of shame, that there is nothing which they will not dare to do. As to the meaning of the word gwem, maog, which follows, interpreters are not agreed. Properly, it signifies bread baked upon the hearth upon the embers. Some, however, because they could not elicit from it a meaning suitable to the passage, have thought that it should be taken for talkative jesting, or idle speech. Others, presuming to give a still wider range to their fancy, have supposed the meaning of the Psalmist to be, that the scoffing of such persons was as bread to them, because they take pleasure in scoffing and jesting. To me, it appears that we ought to retain the proper signification of the word, while, at the same time, it may be understood in a twofold sense. Some taking gwem, maog, for a cake or tart, are of opinion that David here censures people of a delicate taste, who seek after fine and dainty fare, many of whom are always to be found in the courts of princes. Others rather suppose that he rebukes persons of a servile and sordid spirit, who, for the most trifling consideration, would employ their tongues in reviling others, just as in all ages there have been found men who, for a bit of bread, as we say, set their tongues to sale. When I carefully consider other passages in which David describes the nature and character of his enemies, I am disposed to think that those who indulged in jesting and scoffing at feasts, and who, in sitting over their cups, consulted about putting David to death, are here referred to. He therefore complains, that even in the midst of their feasting and banqueting, the ungodly, who had shaken off all shame, communed how they might take away his life.
17. O Lord! how long wilt thou look on? The meaning of the word which I have translated how long, is ambiguous in the Hebrew. In Latin it signifies, How long wilt thou see it, and suffer it without uttering a word? But the other interpretation is equally appropriate, namely, After having seemed to take no notice of the matter for a long time, when wilt thou at length begin to see it? The meaning, however, is substantially the same, for David complains of God's long forbearance, declaring that while the wicked are running to every excess, God connives at them, and delays too much to take vengeance. And although God inculcates upon the faithful the duty of quietly and patiently waiting till the time arrive when he shall judge it proper to help them, yet he allows them to bewail in prayer the grief which they experience on account of his delay. At the same time, David shows, that in so speaking he is not carried headlong merely by the importunity of his desire, but that he is constrained to it by the extremity of his distress. For he says that they tumultuously rush upon him to take away his life, and he compares them to lions, and calls his soul solitary, or alone. Some think that the expression, only soul, means clear and precious, or well beloved; but such do not sufficiently consider the design of David, as has been stated in the 22nd Psalm at the twenty-first verse.
18. I will magnify thee in the great congregation. In this verse David again engages to give thanks to God for all his goodness, since the faithful can render him no other recompense than the sacrifice of praise, as we shall see in Psalm 116:17. Thus even whilst he was surrounded by the impetuous billows of fear and danger, he sets himself to the exercise of giving thanks, as if he had already obtained his desire; and by this he intended to encourage and confirm himself in the assurance of obtaining his requests. In this we may discern a striking and decided evidence of invincible fortitude, for though an outcast and a fugitive, destitute of all help, and, in short, in a state of great extremity and despair as to all his affairs, yet still he thinks of praising God's grace, and makes vows of solemn sacrifice to him, as if, in the midst of the darkness of death, he saw deliverance clearly shining upon him. And he speaks not only of giving thanks in private, but of such thanksgiving as those who were delivered out of any great perils were wont to yield in the public assembly, by the appointment of the law. Some translate the latter clause of the verse a strong and powerful people,5 but I do not see the propriety of it. It is a mere subtilty to argue that the Church is endued with great strength, and therefore is called a strong people. But as David simply means the great crowd and multitude of people who were wont to go up to the sanctuary to hold their solemn assembly before God, I have no doubt that when he speaks of the great congregation, and afterwards of much people, he only repeats, according to his custom, the same thing twice, for the Hebrew word is used in both these senses.