16. Jehovah is King for ever and ever:the heathen are perished out of his land. 17. Thou hast heard the desire of the needy, O Jehovah:thou, wilt direct1 their hearts, and thine ear shall hear them. 18. To judge the fatherless and the poor, that the man who is of earth may no more terrify them.
16. Jehovah is King for ever and ever. David now, as if he had obtained the desires of his heart, rises up to holy rejoicing and thanksgiving. When he calls God King for ever and ever, it is a token of his confidence and joy. By the title of King, he vindicates God's claim to the government of the world, and when he describes him as King for ever and ever, this shows how absurd it is to think to shut him up within the narrow limits of time. As the course of human life is short, even those who sway the scepter over the greatest empires, being but mortal men, very often disappoint the expectations of their servants,2 as we are taught in Psalm 146:3, 4,
"Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish."
Often the power of giving assistance to others fails them, and while they are delaying to give it, the opportunity slips away from them. But we ought to entertain more exalted and honorable conceptions of our heavenly King; for although he does not immediately execute his judgments, yet he has always the full and the perfect power of doing so. In short, he reigns, not for himself in particular; it is for us that he reigns for ever and ever. As this, then, is the duration of his reign, it follows that a long delay cannot hinder him from stretching forth his hand in due season to succor his people, even when they are, as it were, dead, or in a condition which, to the eye of sense and reason, is hopeless. -- The heathen are perished out of the land. The meaning is, that the holy land was at length purged from the abominations and impurities with which it had been polluted. It was a dreadful profanation, when the land which had been given for an inheritance to the people of God, and allotted to those who purely worshipped him, nourished ungodly and wicked inhabitants. By the heathen he does not mean foreigners, and such as did not belong to the race of Abraham according to the flesh,3 but hypocrites, who falsely boasted that they belonged to the people of God, just as at this day many, who are Christians only in name, occupy a place in the bosom of the Church. It is no new thing for the prophets to call apostates, who have degenerated from the virtues and holy lives of their fathers, by the reproachful name of heathen, and to compare them not only to the uncircumcised, but also to the Canaanites, who were the most detestable among all the heathen.
"Thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite," (Ezekiel 16:3)
Many other similar passages are to be met with in Scripture. David, therefore, in applying the dishonorable name of heathen to the false and bastard children of Abraham, gives God thanks for having expelled such a corrupt class out of his Church. By this example we are taught, that it is no new thing if we see in our own day the Church of God polluted by profane and irreligious men. We ought, however, to beseech God quickly to purge his house, and not leave his holy temple exposed to the desecration of swine and dogs, as if it were a dunghill.
17. O Jehovah, thou hast heard the desire of the needy. In these words the prophet confirms what I have just now said, that when hypocrites prevail in the Church, or exceed the faithful in number, we ought, unceasingly, to beseech God to root them out; for such a confused and shameful state of things ought surely to be matter of deep grief to all the true servants of God. By these words, also, the Holy Spirit assures us, that what of old God granted to the fathers in answer to their prayers, we at the present day will obtain, provided we have that anxious solicitude about the deliverance of the Church which we ought to entertain. The clause which follows, Thou wilt direct their hearts, is variously interpreted by expositors. Some think it signifies the same thing, as if it had been said, Thou wilt give success to their desires. According to others, the meaning is, Thou wilt frame and sanctify their hearts by thy grace, that they may ask nothing in prayer but what is right and according to the divine will, as Paul teaches us that the Holy Spirit
"stirs up within us groanings which cannot be uttered," (Romans 8:26)
Both these expositions are perhaps too forced. David, in this clause, magnifies the grace of God in sustaining and comforting his servants in the midst of their troubles and distresses, that they may not sink into despondency, -- in furnishing them with fortitude and patience, - in inspiring them with good hope, - and in stirring them up also to prayer. This is the import of the verb Nyk, Kin, which signifies not only to direct, but also to establish. It is a singular blessing which God confers upon us, when, in the midst of temptation, he upholds our hearts, and does not suffer them to recede from him, or to turn aside to any other quarter for support and deliverance. The meaning of the clause which immediately follows, Thou wilt cause thine ear to hear, is, that it is not in vain that God directs the hearts of his people, and leads them, in obedience to his command, to look to Himself, and to call upon him in hope and patience -- it is not in vain, because his ears are never shut against their groanings. Thus the mutual harmony between two religious exercises is here commended. God does not suffer the faith of his servants to faint or fail, nor does he suffer them to desist from praying; but he keeps them near him by faith and prayer, until it actually appear that their hope has been neither vain nor ineffectual. The sentence might, not improperly, be rendered thus:Thou shalt establish their heart, until thine ear hear them.
18. That thou mayest judge. Here the Psalmist applies the last sentence of the preceding verse to a special purpose, namely, to prevent the faithful, when they are unjustly oppressed, from doubting that God will at length take vengeance on their enemies, and grant them deliverance. By these words he teaches us, that we ought to bear with patience and fortitude the crosses and afflictions which are laid upon us, since God often withholds assistance from his servants until they are reduced to extremity. This is, indeed, a duty of difficult performance, for we would all desire to be entirely exempted from trouble; and, therefore, if God does not quickly come to our relief, we think him remiss and inactive. But if we are anxiously desirous of obtaining his assistance, we must subdue our passion, restrain our impatience, and keep our sorrows within due bounds, waiting until our afflictions call forth the exercise of his compassion, and excite him to manifest his grace in succouring us.
That the man who is of earth may no more terrify them. David again commends the power of God in destroying the ungodly; and he does it for this purpose, - that in the midst of their tumultuous assaults we may have this principle deeply fixed in our minds, that God, whenever he pleases, can bring all their attempts to nothing. Some understand the verb Pra, arots, which we have translated to terrify, as neuter, and read the words thus, -- that mortal man may be no more afraid. But it agrees better with the scope of the passage to render it transitively, as we have done. And although the wicked prosper in their wicked course, and lift up their heads above the clouds, there is much truth in describing them as mortal, or men liable to many calamities. The design of the Psalmist is indirectly to condemn their infatuated presumption, in that, forgetful of their condition, they breathe out cruel and terrible threatenings, as if it were beyond the power of even God himself to repress the violence of their rage. The phrase, of earth, contains a tacit contrast between the low abode of this world and the height of heaven. For whence do they go forth to assault the children of God? Doubtless, from the earth, just as if so many worms should creep out of the crevices of the ground; but in so doing, they attack God himself, who promises help to his servants from heaven.