5. His ways are prosperous at all times; on high are thy judgments before him; he puffeth at all his enemies. 6. He saith in his heart, I shall not be moved from generation to generation, because he is not in adversity.
There is a great diversity of opinion among interpreters respecting the first clause of this verse. The translators of the Septuagint version, thinking the word wlyxy, yachilu, which is in the future tense, derived from the root llx, chalal, which it is not, have rendered it, his ways are defiled. But it is agreed among the Jewish expositors, that it is derived from the root lwx, chol. Many among them, however, take it actively for to put one in fear, or to put one to trouble, as if it had been said, The ways of the ungodly are dreadful to the good, and torment them. 1 Some also apply the words to God, reading the sentence thus, His ways come, that is to say, have their course, or prosper at all times. This, however, in my judgment, is too forced. But as this word, in other texts of Scripture, means to be prosperous, I am surprised that there should be any difference of opinion among the learned concerning this passage, when immediately, in the next clause, the prophet clearly shows that he is speaking of the prosperous condition of the ungodly, and the continued course of pleasure which intoxicates them. He not only complains of this their prosperity, but from it he aggravates their guilt, in that they take occasion, from the goodness of God, to harden themselves in their wickedness. I would, therefor explain the verse thus:As they enjoy a continued course of prosperity, they dream that God is bound or plighted to them, and hence they put his judgments far from them; and if any man oppose them, they are confident they can immediately put him down, or dash him to pieces with a puff or breath. Now, we understand the simple meaning of the prophet to be, that the ungodly mock God, taking encouragement from his forbearance; as that base tyrant, Dionysius, because he had a prosperous voyage, after having plundered the temple of Proserpine,2 boasted that God favored the sacrilegious.3 Hence it is, that they put far from them the judgments of God.
In the opinion of some, these words, On high are thy judgments before him, mean much the same thing as if the prophet had said, God treats them with too much clemency, and spares them; just as he elsewhere complains of their being exempted from the common afflictions of life. But this interpretation does not so well agree with the words; yea, it appears to be unnatural and forced. The judgments of God then are said to be on high to the ungodly, because, presuming upon the great distance of God from them,4 they promise themselves not only a truce with death during their whole life, but also an everlasting covenant with it. We see how, by procrastinating the evil day, they harden themselves, and become more and more obstinate in evil;5 yea, persuading themselves that God is shut up in heaven, as if they had nothing to do with him, they strengthen themselves in the hope of escaping unpunished;6 as we see them, in Isaiah, (Isaiah 22:13) jesting at the threatenings of the prophets, saying, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die." When the prophets, in order to inspire the people with terror, denounced the dreadful vengeance of God, which was ready to be inflicted upon them, these wicked men cried out that it was all whims or idle stories. God therefore bitterly inveighs against them, because, when he called the people to mourning, ashes, and sackcloth, these mockers encouraged them to minstrelsy and feasting; and at length he swears, "As I live, surely this iniquity shall not be purged from you till ye die." The faithful, indeed, lift up their eyes to heaven to behold the judgments of God; and they are not less afraid of them than if they were just ready to fall upon their heads. The ungodly, on the contrary, despise them, and yet, in order not to be disturbed or tormented with the fear or apprehension of them, they would banish them into heaven; just as the Epicureans, although they did not presume avowedly to deny the existence of a God, yet imagined that he is confined to heaven, where he indulges himself in idleness, without taking any concern about what is done here below.7 From this infatuation flows their presumptuous confidence of which David speaks, by which they assure themselves of being able to destroy, with a puff or blast alone, all who are enemies to them. The word xwp, phuach, which sometimes signifies to ensnare, is here more properly taken for to puff, or to blow out.
The Psalmist confirms these statements in the next verse, where he tells us that the persons of whom he speaks are fully persuaded in their hearts that they are beyond all danger of change. He saith in his heart, I shall not be moved from generation to generation. The ungodly often pour forth proud language to this effect. David, however, only touches the hidden ulcer of their vile arrogance, which they cherish in their own breasts, and therefore he does not say what they speak with their mouth, but what they persuade themselves of in their hearts. It may here be asked, Why does David blame in others what he professes concerning himself in so many places?8 for trusting to the protection of God, he courageously triumphs over all dangers.9 And surely it becomes the children of God effectually to provide for their safety, so that, although the world should a hundred times fall into ruins, they may have the comfortable assurance that they will remain unmoved. The answer to this question is easy, and it is this, The faithful promise themselves security in God, and no where else; and yet while they do this, they know themselves to be exposed to all the storms of affliction, and patiently submit to them. There is a very great difference between a despiser of God who, enjoying prosperity today, is so forgetful of the condition of man in this world, as through a distempered imagination to build his nest above the clouds, and who persuades himself that he shall always enjoy comfort and repose,10 -- there is a very great difference between him and the godly man, who, knowing that his life hangs only by a thread, and is encompassed by a thousand deaths, and who, ready to endure any kind of afflictions which shall be sent upon him, and living in the world as if he were sailing upon a tempestuous and dangerous sea, nevertheless, bears patiently all his troubles and sorrows, and comforts himself in his afflictions, because he leans wholly upon the grace of God, and entirely confides in it.11 The ungodly man says, I shall not be moved, or I shall not shake for ever; because he thinks himself sufficiently strong and powerful to bear up against all the assaults which shall be made upon him. The faithful man says, What although I may happen to be moved, yea, even fall and sink into the lowest depths? my fall will not be fatal, for God will put his hand under me to sustain me. By this, in like manner, we are furnished with an explanation of the different effects which an apprehension of danger has upon the good and the bad. Good men may tremble and sink into despondency, but this leads them to flee with all haste to the sanctuary of God's grace;12 whereas the ungodly, while they are affrighted even at the noise of a falling leaf,13 and live in constant uneasiness, endeavor to harden themselves in their stupidity, and to bring themselves into such a state of giddy frenzy, that being, as it were, carried out of themselves, they may not feel their calamities. The cause assigned for the confidence with which the prosperous ungodly man persuades himself that no change shall come upon him is, because he is not in adversity. This admits of two senses. It either means, that the ungodly, because they have been exempted from all calamity and misery during the past part of their life, entertain the hope of a peaceful and joyful state in the time to come; or it means, that through a deceitful imagination they exempt themselves from the common condition of men; just as in Isaiah, (Isaiah 28:15) they say,
"When the overflowing scourge shall pass through,
it shall not come upon us."