3. For the ungodly praiseth himself on account of the desire of his own soul; and the violent man blesseth himself; he despiseth Jehovah. 4. The ungodly, in the pride of his countenance,1 inquireth not:all his devices say, There is no God.
3. For the ungodly praiseth himself. This verse is variously explained. Literally the reading is, For praiseth the wicked or ungodly; and it is therefore necessary to supply some word, but what word is disputed.2 Some translate the words, ungodly and violent man, in the accusative case, thus:He praiseth the ungodly, and blesseth the violent man; because they think it strange that after "praiseth" the sentence should end abruptly, without any thing being said of who or what was praised. But since it is quite common in Hebrew, when the agent and the subject are one and the same person, to express the word only once, while we repeat it in order to complete the sense, the interpretation which I have followed appears to me the most proper, namely, that the ungodly man praises himself, and boasts of the desire of his soul, and blesses himself. Now, it may be asked, What is this desire of soul? It is usually understood in this sense,3 that the ungodly flatter and applaud themselves, while fortune smiles on them, and they obtain their wishes, and enjoy whatever they desire; just as David adds, a little after, that they abuse their prosperity, in attempting whatever comes into their fancy. But, in my opinion, desire of soul here denotes rather lust, and the intemperate gratification of passion and appetite; and thus the meaning is, that they indulge themselves with delight in their depraved desires, and, despising the judgment of God, fearlessly absolve themselves from all guilt, maintain their innocence,4 and justify their impiety. Moses uses a similar form of expression in Deuteronomy 29:19,
"I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart."
David, indeed, says a little after, that the ungodly abuse their prosperity, by flattering themselves; but here, in my judgment, he expresses something more weighty, namely, that they acquire praise from their presumptuousness, and glory in their wickedness; and this foolish confidence, or bold assurance, is the cause of their throwing off all restraint and breaking forth into every kind of excess. Accordingly, I interpret the words praise and bless as having the same meaning, just as the words, ungodly and violent man, are synonymous in this place, although they differ from each other as genus and species. With these statements agrees what is immediately added in the end of the verse that these ungodly persons despise God. To translate the verb, to blaspheme, as has been done by some, or to provoke to anger, as has been done by others, is too remote from the scope of the passage. David rather teaches, that the cause of their careless indulgence in the gratification of their lusts, is their base contempt of God. He who duly reflects that God will be his judge is so much alarmed by this reflection, that he dares not bless his soul while his conscience accuses him of guilt and of being given to the practice of sin.5
4. The ungodly, in the pride of his countenance, etc. Others translate the words, The ungodly man, by reason of the violence of his anger, or, in the pride which he displays, does not inquire after God. But this partly perverts the meaning, and partly weakens the force of what David intended to express. In the first place, the word inquire, which is here put absolutely, that is, without any noun which it governs, is, according to this translation, improperly limited to God. David simply means, that the ungodly, without examination, permit themselves to do any thing, or do not distinguish between what is lawful and unlawful, because their own lust is their law, yea, rather, as if superior to all laws, they fancy that it is lawful for them to do whatever they please. The beginning of well-doing in a man's life is inquiry; in other words, we can only begin to do well when we keep ourselves from following, without choice and discrimination, the dictates of our own fancy, and from being carried away by the wayward propensities of our flesh. But the exercise of inquiring proceeds from humility, when we assign to God, as is reasonable, the place of judge and ruler over us. The prophet, therefore, very properly says, that the reason why the ungodly, without any regard or consideration, presume to do whatever they desire, is because, being lifted up with pride, they leave to God nothing whatever of the prerogative of a judge. The Hebrew word Pp, aph, which we have translated countenance, I have no doubt is here taken in its proper and natural signification, and not metaphorically for anger; because haughty persons show their effrontery even by their countenance.
In the second clause, the prophet more severely, or, at least, more openly, accuses them, declaring that all their wicked imaginations show that they have no God. All his devices say, There is no God.6 By these words I understand, that through their heaven-daring presumption, they subvert all piety and justice, as if there were no God sitting in heaven. Did they truly believe that there is a God, the fear of the judgment to come would restrain them. Not that they plainly and distinctly deny the existence of a God, but then they strip him of his power. Now, God would be merely like an idol, if, contented with an inactive existence, he should divest himself of his office as judge. Whoever, therefore, refuse to admit that the world is subject to the providence of God, or do not believe that his hand is stretched forth from on high to govern it, do as much as in them lies to put an end to the existence of God. It is not, however, enough to have some cold and unimpressive knowledge of him in the head; it is only the true and heartfelt conviction of his providence which makes us reverence him, and which keeps us in subjection7 to him. The greater part of interpreters understand the last clause as meaning generally, that all the thoughts of a wicked man tend to the denial of a God. In my opinion, the Hebrew word twmzm, mezimmoth, is here, as in many other places, taken in a bad sense for cunning and wicked thoughts,8 so that the meaning, as I have noticed already, is this:Since the ungodly have the hardihood to devise and perpetrate every kind of wickedness, however atrocious, it is from this sufficiently manifest, that they have cast off all fear of God from their hearts.